Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Not too long ago, the NY Daily News ran an article titled 'City neighborhoods losing character to condos, chain stores' bemoaning the fate of losing indigenous mom & pop stores to the faceless, sterile corporate chain stores which often replace them. To it's credit, the article is pretty neutral in that the author simply attributes the wide sweeping change to real estate pressures, and doesn't use the opportunity to clamor for violent resistance (to impose regulations, etc.)

While I can agree with that sentiment on an emotional level, I realize and accept the fact that my preferences are just that, and that it would be immoral to escalate any resistance above a completely bilateral voluntary nature.

It also helps me to understand that the monolithization of our neighborhoods is a direct result of codified violence (zoning laws, licensing, permits) which disrupts the realization of consumers' preferences into a bizarre spectacle of what seemingly is perceived as the 'free market'.

Radley Balko does a wonderful job explaining the process and the unintended consequences that follow.

"...zoning officials and regulators tend to overdo the regulating, then lapse into bureaucratic coma when local businesses try to navigate their way through City Hall. For example, if you want to do something as simple as change the lettering on or repaint the sign outside your business in Old Town, you both have to apply for and pay $50 to obtain a "ladder permit," and apply for and pay $55 for a "building permit." It can take more than two weeks to get the proper permits, even if all you want to do is replace the "e" on your "Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe" sign.

While all of this is intended to promote architectural continuity and preserve Old Town's historical charm, like most regulations it tends to promote the opposite of what city planners intended...

I guess the question is, whether one ought to need to have a lawyer on retainer in order to open a business in Old Town. And if Old Town is going to make that a requirement--intentionally or not--what effect is that going to have on the boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores that make up the very atmosphere the regulations are trying to promote?

My hunch is that Old Town's expensive, meticulous zoning laws have made it too difficult for the mom-and-pop places to do business. ...Franchise operators can often tap the resources of the parent company, particularly when it comes to accessing on-staff lawyers with experience navigating through and working with local zoning laws and business regulations.

The same people who gripe about how Wal-Mart is pushing smaller, independent places out of business tend to be the people who support onerous regulatory structures. What they tend not to understand is that regulatory burdens hit the smaller, independent places hardest, because they're the places that have the smallest amount of discretionary cash to hire lawyers or a tighter budget and, therefore, a smaller margin of error when it comes to hassles like delaying an opening because some bureaucrat determined their signage is a couple of inches out of compliance."

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