The move to block chain competition to local restaurants in some towns is being tested by a lawsuit brought against the town of Springdale, Utah, by owners of a Subway franchise. The investors believe that what Springdale needs to set off the beauty of the surrounding Zion National Park is a few five-dollar foot-long banners.
Springdale, which voted in the ban in 2006, is not the only community in the U.S. to make such a decision. Sister Bay, Wisc., on the bucolic Door Peninsula, last week passed an ordinance banning formula restaurants. Other tourist towns, like York, Maine, that are proud of their charm and want to preserve it in perpetuity (and keep the tourism dollars flowing) have done likewise.
What kind of restaurants typically fall under this ban? Sister Bay defined the restaurants banned as those with the same name/brand as other locations, that share a uniform exterior appearance, or are fast-food restaurants.
To me, this ban falls into the same category as restricting building designs to maintain a harmonious look to a town. How much public choice must be sacrificed to retain a town's character?
I'm OK with at least some restrictions, although I understand the arguments against them. I enjoy cuisine tourism, exploring the unfamiliar and authentic eateries in tourist destinations, and I don't particularly care for the cloned strips of chain restaurants found in every major city, a place nicknamed Generica. That's one reason I find Europe so interesting -- the lack of chains, except the occasional American brand such as the McDonald's on the Champs-Élysées (been there, done that, didn't relish it.)
Certainly chain restaurants have learned to make the most out of every dollar, and capitalism rewards such efficiency. The same can be said for architecture, fashion, and many other attributes of our lives that vary from place to place. The Soviets built a huge number of efficient high-rises. Anyone ever travel to Eastern Europe to tour them? Or would you rather visit downtown Savannah, Georgia?
Efficiency is not everything; there is a value in maintaining a culture and the touchstones to our heritage. If it means that I won't be able to find a Red Lobster in York, Maine? I'm OK with that. Although I'll miss the cheesy biscuits.
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