City Councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey and Lydia Edwards filed legislation to remove as-of-right designations for chain stores in Boston’s neighborhood business districts. The proposal, entered at today’s Council meeting, would amend the City of Boston’s Zoning Code to regulate formula retail uses, also known as chain stores, and require a conditional use permit for any such business to open and operate in a neighborhood business district.
“This zoning change prioritizes local businesses and increases transparency in development and evens the playing field to assure local businesses have a fighting chance,” said Councilor Edwards. “Our recent experience with Starbucks in the North End, demonstrates now more than ever that with increased development we need zoning codes that assure our local businesses have a certain level of protection and the chain stores have a level of accountability to our neighborhoods.”
Chain stores would be defined as retail or service establishments that have eleven or more locations worldwide, and two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized façade, a standardized décor and color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a servicemark.
The amendment would not prohibit chain stores in any location. Instead, it would give residents and community members the opportunity to weigh in through the public process of obtaining a conditional use permit. The Councilors observed that national or multinational corporations can impact both the cultural fabric of the business district and the ability for locally-owned small businesses to survive and thrive. Several other cities across the country, including several in New England, already have such laws in place that have survived legal challenge.
“Small businesses across the city are facing commercial gentrification and increasing pressure from national chains,” said Councilor Wu. “This legislation supports jobs in our neighborhoods by giving residents and stakeholders a voice, so that our business districts are not just shaped by which multinational corporations can offer the highest rents.”
The zoning text amendment was assigned to the Council’s Committee on Planning, Development, and Transportation, chaired by Councilor Wu, for a hearing before a potential vote by the Council. If approved by the Council, it would be formally submitted to the Boston Zoning Commission for approval.
“As Chair of the City Council’s Small Business and Consumer Affairs Committee, and as a district City Councilor, I know how important small businesses are to building a sense of neighborhood character, driving economic growth, and creating wealth in our communities,” said Councilor Janey. “While chain stores also play a role in our economy, it is imperative that community members have the opportunity to weigh in on whether to allow them based on the unique circumstances of their neighborhood business district.”