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