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New Chipotle and Starbucks Locations Coming to University District, Locals Express Concern With Overabundance of Chain Retail

Walker Evans Walker Evans New Chipotle and Starbucks Locations Coming to University District, Locals Express Concern With Overabundance of Chain Retail
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Construction has officially begun on a new five story building that will soon rise at the southeast intersection of Lane Avenue and High Street. Once completed, a couple of familiar chains will be opening there to accommodate campus-area residents, workers, and visitors.

Representatives with the company that owns the new building confirmed with Columbus Underground on Monday that both Chipotle and Starbucks are slated for ground-floor retail spaces of the mixed-use building.

While both chains have many loyal fans (a combined 39.7 million on Facebook at the time of publishing) some locals remain wary about the long term implications that an abundance of chains could have on the University District. With a half dozen new buildings under construction and more on the way, the landscape of the neighborhood is rapidly changing, and the retail fabric is changing along with it. New Amazon, Chick-Fil-A and Target locations are currently under construction nearby.

“The national chain model is a little cheaper for the customer but it is less sustainable economically and carries a larger environmental footprint,” explained Chuck Lynd, Chair of the Support Our Local Economy (SOLE) Coalition. “Locally owned businesses buy more goods locally, hire local accountants, architects, and advertise locally. The multiplier effect results in more jobs, more local purchasing power, and more taxes to support public services. Chain stores ‘leak’ dollars out of the local economy to nonlocal investors and national supply chains.”

Retail consultant Chris Boring added that beyond the negative economic impacts that chains have on the local economy, there’s a cultural impact as well.

“I think it is sad that today’s students will be less likely to experience and appreciate all the wonderful quirky businesses and retail counterculture that used to enrich the college experience,” stated Boring. “The urban bohemian character of the University District is rapidly fading. College was the last place to let your freak flag fly for a lot of young people trying out different versions of themselves on their way to becoming adults. Now it’s a place to use Mom and Dad’s credit card at Amazon and Target.”

Long-time University District resident and University Area Commissioner Rory Krupp views the change in both a positive and negative light, pointing out that opportunities for small businesses on High Street are simply relocating rather than disappearing entirely from the neighborhood.

“You hate to see old favorites go, but it’s far from the end of the world,” said Krupp. “In some ways — and I think this is clearly by design — High Street’s future is just going to be an extension of OSU’s campus. The real fun is going to be elsewhere, either at scattered places throughout the University District, the Short North or Downtown. Things are going to be different, but in the end the area ought to have a more neighborhood-type feel with more local businesses… it’s just not going to be on High Street.”

Dr. Bill LaFayette, founder of local economic consulting firm Regionomics, added that this is not just an issue facing the University District, but Columbus as a whole. He explained that the Columbus Metro Area ranks low on various measures related to small business creation and concentration.

“We also rank very low in a measure of independent retail vitality by Civic Economics, and in a measure of buying from independent retail stores put out last year by Chase,” he added. “The problem with all of this is that chains centralize purchasing and business services. In doing so, they send the majority of the sales dollars they receive out of the region immediately, so those dollars have no opportunity to create indirect economic activity and employment among local suppliers and service providers.”

New development and new construction by its own nature is an expensive endeavor, which translates to higher retail rents that chains are going to be more likely to afford than independent local businesses and startups. LaFayette suggests that in order to better support local businesses, the solution lies on both the supply and demand side of the equation.

“We need to encourage the formation of small, independent retail by drawing attention to the many resources available to current and prospective entrepreneurs, enhance those resources, and build a business mentoring network,” he stated. “While chains are necessary, we also need to get out the message that only a small shift of our purchasing to local retailers and restaurants can add up to a big impact. Consumers and purchasing managers just need to keep in mind the availability of local retail, and shop in those stores and eat in those restaurants when it makes sense.”

Lynd agrees that the solution to chain saturation lies squarely in the hands of the consumer and the neighborhood. He pointed to recent examples where community members on the South Side requested fewer Dollar Store chains for the future of Parsons Avenue, and added that Clintonville residents have recently spoken up about the arrival of new chain restaurants during neighborhood meetings.

“I think that is what it is going to take to slow down the well worn path of letting the chains colonize our communities,” said Lynd. “It’s been happening for decades but the DIY spirit is returning with the Millennials. Today, the local economy in Franklin County is about 35 percent local, and 65 percent nonlocal. We can flip those numbers in the next decade if we speak up for the value of what makes us unique and proud of our neighborhoods — the businesses that put the US in ColumbUS.”

Chipotle and Starbucks are expected to open in early 2018.

CLICK HERE for more information about ongoing development in the University District.

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  • Evan Thomas Woods

    Roy Krupp: “oh, you know… Just move elsewhere.”

    • jOHnH

      I disagree, I actually think his comment is regarding the development of other neighborhood pockets, such as Summit St or Hudson St. There is a lot of great space on Summit all the way from Hudson to Weinland Park at 5th ave. I don’t love the big name retailers being added, but I get it. Look at the South Campus Gateway for example, a lot of the smaller “semi local” didn’t pan out.

      • Stephen Francis

        I also read his comment as “High street may turn in to a commercialized chain store strip, but this gives the neighborhood more opportunities” as well. I too have mixed feelings, but as a resident, I have also seen the good this has in some ways that a lack of modern Class A space on High Street prevented. Since the announcement of redevelopment of High, the University District has seen, as jOHnH indicated, a shift toward other real estate. Summit and Hudson is a great example. Store fronts that sat empty for years are now full with long time campus staples. A blighted corner is now slated for more beautification in the near future. And there are so many more storefronts that have long been empty or converted to residential units that will now be ripe for more local businesses. We have seen that with the recent renovation of multiple spaces on 11th and 4th that sat vacant for many years. There are clearly pros and cons to both sides but I think there are ways to have plenty of winners, even with casualties.

        I do wish the city and developers could have worked something out with some of the local businesses to offer subsidized rents for a period of time and allow them to come back once the buildings are finished or relocation expenses to some of the afformentioned locations. Would have gone further in helping the community believe that they have the best interest of the community at heart.

        • I do think it’s also worth pointing out that the University District has been full of chain retail for decades. The McDonald’s has been in place for about as long as I can recall. So has Urban Outfitters at this point. And it’s not like anyone is expecting an independent/local/curated/bespoke cell phone retailer in place of a Sprint or Verizon store.

          While indies like Bernie’s and Johnny Go’s House of Music have lost their homes to the wrecking ball recently, so has a Huntington Bank branch and a Charley’s Philly Steaks.


  • Indyout

    Wow..Great article..It is true that the quirkiness of the world is fading. Times Square has been cleaned up and has Olive Garden and suburban type stores. San Francisco has lost several gay bars and blended others into a mix of straight/gay…Not to mention both cities have priced the quirkiness out. It’s only natural that it’s happening here.

  • Pete

    I very much appreciate the way this article represents both sides of the viewpoint. Balanced. Excellent article in my opinion.
    And my own view on the issue of chains is mixed. Hey, maybe that’s why I liked the article so much.

  • Cheryl

    The person who selected the new Chipotle location @ Lane & High lives in Dublin, the person who approved it, lives in UA. It was designed by people that live in Worthington and Hilliard. The architects Chipotle hires are in Grandview, the engineers are in Gahanna and it will most likely be constructed by a General Contractor in Gahanna as well. Over 100 of Chipotle’s accountants have an office at Polaris.

    Chipotle employs over 900 people (not including the people mentioned above) in Central Ohio and what’s great about building another restaurant means someone is going to be promoted to GM or maybe even Restaurateur! The crews in the restaurants work so hard and sometimes there aren’t any local openings for advancement so they choose to move. But growth within Central Ohio means more upward mobility is available right here at home.

    As for purchasing local food, Chipotle served over 30 million pounds of local produce last year alone. (http://www.chipotle.com/localgrowersupport) They use their buying power to support family farmers and help them convert their fields to organic.

    I don’t know about you, but when I was in college I couldn’t afford to go to Northstar and pay $17 for a meal. But I could turn a (then) $5 Chipotle burrito into 2 meals and still feel just as good about what I was eating.

    Believe me, I miss Beakman’s Bagels, Long’s Bookstore and the Flying Tomato as much as the next Buckeye! But don’t blame the chains. It’s not their fault. Not to mention, remember what was on that corner? A Shell gas station (Shell Oil, the multinational corporation headquartered in the Netherlands), this project isn’t exactly replacing a local business either.

    • Thanks for sharing the additional context. I agree that there’s a lot of “grey area” when it comes to the chains-versus-local argument. It’s simplistic to paint one as good and one as bad when there are many more factors at play. We published a piece on this very topic several months ago: http://www.columbusunderground.com/shoppers-disagree-on-what-it-means-to-buy-local-ls1

      The most we can ask is that consumers educate themselves on their choices and make informed decisions that hopefully have a positive effect on the community at large.

  • LegalEagle89

    I think its a little early for the criticisms but the concerns are warranted. The big chains will get in some of the buildings, I think some of that is natural (especially Starbucks and Chipot). However, there should always be a concerted effort to get local coffee shops, retail, and restaurants over national chains, but it shouldn’t be DEFCON-1 when the nationals do.

  • jeffrey W

    If you are a developer getting guaranteed rents from large chains is much easier than offering affordable rents to local restaurants. This is why most of America looks the same. On the other side of this, setting up your business across from a campus has it’s risks especially if you are a small local business. Student populations usually are looking for quick, cheap food and a place to set up a laptop, which is a little more sustainable for large chains, but not so much for small businesses. At least those are the facts that I think would go into these decisions.

    To fix these problems you need a developer who is willing to price the rents for local businesses instead of for national chains. Since that will probably not happen, it is hard to bemoan this outcome, as it is a product of our current economic reality.

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