Take the 'A' Train

For Duke Ellington, the great jazz composer and pianist, taking the "A" train, as one of the New York City subway lines is known as, represented the fastest way to Harlem and all the music clubs and entertainment venues to be found there. The Manchester equivalent apparently, is the fastest way to a discussion about what the future development pattern of the town should be based around. Should the town favor locally owned, independent, unique shops and restaurants? Or should the welcome mat be broad enough to allow, even encourage, chains and franchise operations to set foot in town and plant their flags? On the Journal's Facebook page, a difference of opinion and philosophy has been etched out vividly over the past week or so, when the potential developers of a proposed Subway eatery - they of submarine sandwich fame - backed out, at least for the time being, of a plan that might have seen them open up an operation on Depot Street next to the existing McDonalds restaurant in a currently unoccupied building.

Here's one point-of-view:

"I'm not certain embracing growth through the introduction of chainstores is the trajectory we want to embrace if we are to remain a destination uncluttered by big signs, chain restaurants, and other big corp. entities that send profits outside of the state. Buy local,employ local, support your community first. There are PLENTY of places to get a very good and fairly-priced sandwich here in town."

And here's another:

"Local storefront owners have products to sell and they are available everyday. Please explain to me how a Subway or Starbucks would take away their customers. I was under the impression that this state, let alone country, was supposed to be about 'All for one, and one for all.' Instead, there is a lot of pontification about maintaining integrity for local businesses. People, the world is changing. Keeping out Subway, Starbucks, and any other business that would like to service Manchester, in my opinion is ridiculous. Why not go back to making your own clothes, get rid of the outlets, and make this a residence only community."

Our general feeling is that locally-owned, independent, and most importantly, unique stores, shops, restaurants and lodging facilities are the most likely to give a community a certain desirable caché. That's especially relevant to a community that's also a destination resort like Manchester - we assume - wants to be. Uniqueness is a big deal. It seperates strong communities from their also-ran competitors. But on the other hand, especially in these less-than-overly robust economic times, the welcome mat should be out for any legitimate business that is willing to conform to local norms and standards. If we were to take the view that Manchester is a special island unto itself, we probably wouldn't have a lot of businesses that are here and employing local people. They offer choices and variety that wouldn't be available any other way.

Finding a nice balance between the two isn't a simple matter. Many large chain stores and restaurants have financial resources to play with that a typical mom-and-pop business can only dream about. It isn't a level playing field in that sense. But what is, in life? It's about equality of opportunity, not opportunity of result. A local business can bring intimate knowledge of local people and preferences, plus superior customer service (if stressed enough) to offset the sometimes better pricing options that may be available in a chain store or restaurant.

Not that there's any reason to think that the local business can't also compete on price, but maybe the interest in a Subway indicates that at the lower price point end of the food chain - no pun intended - there's a market niche waiting for somebody to fill.

We think it's too bad the Subway folks pulled out before we had a chance to fully explore the pros and cons of their specific proposal, but the larger issue of what types of businesses to encourage here will continue and go on. That's a good discussion to have. If we want Manchester to be a vibrant, dynamic community, it needs to be open to all comers, then filter those out that simply don't fit inside the mosaic. The world hasn't ended here because chains like McDonalds, Friendly's, Stewarts and Rite Aid have a presence here. In fact, it would be tough to imagine the place without them. Not every chain store spells sprawl and unsightly strip mall development. And until everyone in Manchester is so well off that being choosy is affordable, we should welcome anyone who wants to open up here, consistent with community values.

Or, maybe a local business should start to get some kind of tax break simply for being locally owned. That's another way to conceivably go, if all else fails. But talk about a slippery slope.

This is not a debate that's uncommon elsewhere around the country - WalMart has had a tough time penetrating inner cities, like New York and Chicago, for example. Vermont seems to be an especially inhospitable place for national chains when proposed - sometimes that softens with time, sometimes not. A confident community is one that can amalgamate both.

It may be a different world from decades ago, when starting a business and having a reasonable chance of success was dependent on factors within the businessperson's control - how many hours out of the week were they willing to work, for example - but a free country is just that, free. The burden of proof should be on those who would say no. That doesn't mean that saying no is sometimes the right thing to do. But again, it's unfortunate that we didn't get to learn more, and find out what may have been in store for the Subway idea. Maybe they, or some other business like them, will be back.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions