I want to thank the Journal for the words of appreciation expressed on my behalf last week.
I would also like to clarify my stance relative to the Starbucks permit.
I do accept their entry into our community as a standalone café. My objection is to the variance granted to allow them to operate with a drive-thru, thus allowing Starbucks to skirt the normal parking requirements to which all other related businesses must adhere. This section of the bylaw, written many years ago, deliberately imposed such demanding parking requirements in order to make it nearly impossible for drive-thrus to exist. Unfortunately, I was not paying attention when the Dunkin' Donuts permit was granted which is even more egregious as it violated a clear prohibition in the town plan that expressly disallowed any drive thru that exited onto 7A. Incidentally, much has been said of other towns, such as Stowe, which has managed to carve out a very successful niche market. Stowe contains but one small fast food operation and no nationally-branded lodging chain, all due to very strict zoning bylaws and very cautious interpretation by the town boards.
That being said, we are encountering a larger issue that requires more serious thought and conversation. We are becoming more welcoming of national chains in the food and lodging area of our economy, with the argument being that they represent a new class of assets that bring new opportunities to the town. The argument is also being advanced that these businesses, in and of themselves, will bring new business to town that doesn't currently exist.
We are accepting these arguments strictly on anecdotal evidence instead of with the justification of valid marketing studies. If the economic pie was growing substantially then it might make sense to allow more players to participate. But when the pie is growing slowly, or not growing very much all, then the new business generated from the arrival of a new national chain comes substantially at the expense of existing businesses. In our case (the town of Manchester) it will come at the expense of long-standing local businesses which have been the mainstay of our community, both economically and socially.
I recognize this is a discussion that has many facets that could easily fill many issues of this paper. And do not mistake me as someone who is antidevelopment, as some may be quick to do - heaven knows, the inventory of projects I have invested in to date and still have in the pipeline should summarily dispel that notion. My point is that we need to be cautious, more deliberative and more demanding when these national chains want entry into our community, otherwise we risk becoming Anytown, USA, and thus lose that distinct economic advantage that comes from being unique.