The decision seems to clear the way for Subway to open. The idea of a national franchised restaurant like Subway opening here has prompted some measure of discussion around the idea of whether that's the right sort of fit for Manchester, and whether there is a level playing field for locally owned independent restaurants in terms of competition. Such discussions are no stranger to this town. We had them when McDonalds and Stewarts wanted to open up shop, and we may revisit the subject again, given the possibility of a Starbucks restaurant interested in planting their flag here.
While we can understand why some people equate a Subway restaurant with popular notions of "fast food outlet," if you go by the letter of the zoning ordinance, it's an open-and-shut case. If Subway is serving food in non-disposable containers, and doesn't offer a drive-thru window, then it's a restaurant, plain and simple - not a "fast food restaurant." The difference is not academic, since it involves a major difference in the number of parking spaces the different types of restaurants would have to make available. If you want to go by the popular concept of what is a fast food operation and throw out the rule book, the list of unintended consequences grows. There are other restaurants that could also could be considered "fast food," as was pointed out during the hearings on the permit to change the use of the former retail space to a restaurant.
Beyond the zoning wonkery, however, lies a more basic question - is Subway a good fit for the town? Of course it is. It's another taxpaying business, which is almost always to be preferred over an empty commercial space. It's another option for the public. If you like another place that has been here for years, you can still go there. It's more competition for those existing businesses, but in the long run that is good. It will result in better service, lower prices, or both, eventually. There will be a few more jobs created as well.
Independently owned local businesses have their hands full competing against a national-brand business like Subway, but this is not an impossible fight either. Independents have the advantages of already being here, knowing their customers, and being unique. They can move more nimbly without having to clear everything through a corporate level. It's not an unfair fight.
All of a sudden, the corner of Depot Street and Center Hill is abuzz with activity. We're looking forward to the re-opening of a restaurant where Friendly's used to be and that will add more choices to the restaurant mix as well. The Starbucks baristas may not be far behind, although there are miles to go on that one. A Subway will be the meal ticket for some, but not for all. There are plenty of choices to be had, and that's good.
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