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Mitchell Speech Continued

Continued from previous page...

There are several reasons for this. The first is that independent stores tend to be located in humanly-scaled, pedestrian-oriented shopping districts, as opposed to the sprawling, isolated experience of a chain store parking lot.

The second reason is that local stores create a sense of place and community identity. They reflect the local culture. They give neighborhoods their distinct flavor. They are often a source of community pride and an attraction to visitors.

Chain stores, by contrast, are sapping communities of their character and individuality. Even the most famous American cities are losing their unique appeal. Kmart, Costco, and Home Depot are building in Manhattan. Fifth Avenue is home to Starbucks and The Gap. These same stores can be found on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Market Street in San Francisco, and thousands of other locations worldwide.

Furthermore, because they live in the places where they do business, local merchants tend to be far more committed to the community's well-being and long-term stability than distant corporations... The shift from local to absentee-owned stores means that business decisions are no longer made locally by members of the community.

This loss of local decision-making and the growing power of a small number of large corporations has implications for democracy. In 1952, Senator Hubert Humphrey asked, "Do we want an America where the economic market place is filled with a few Frankensteins and giants? Or do we want an America where there are thousands upon thousands of small entrepreneurs, independent businessmen, and landholders who can stand on their own feet and talk back to their Government or to anyone else?"

Many contend that public policy should have no role in shaping the retail economy. This is, after all, a free market.

But public policy is never neutral, and has, in fact, played a major role in the expansion of national chain stores. In many ways, public policy has undermined local retailers by giving large retail corporations unfair advantages.

The loss of independent businesses is not inevitable. Rather than undermining the local economy, many communities are taking a different approach. They have made sustaining humanly scaled, unique homegrown businesses a primary focus of planning and economic development decisions.

They are adopting a variety of land use rules that deter chain stores and foster local ownership. Many have restricted the physical size of new stores. Others allow new retail development only if it meets specific criteria defined by the community. Some have banned uniformity, by prohibiting "formula" businesses. Others have barred new retail development outside of the town∂s central business district. (Examples of these policies, including the full text of the local ordinance, can be found on the New Rules web site, created by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, at http://www.newrules.org.)

By designing policies that put community first, local businesses can once again become a key component in a dynamic retail economy and a vibrant community.