The stupidest essay ever entitled “The Death of Main Street: Are big chains to blame, or is excessive regulation? ” courtesy of Reason magazine. This stuff rivals creationist drivel for sheer stupidity.
Briefly, Balko argues small businesses fail because regulations price them out of business, not because of Wal-Mart. The evidence? Old Town Alexandria! Ha!
Old Town Alexandria is an historic, charming stretch of city just outside of Washington D.C. that features lots of shops, restaurants, parks, cobblestone streets, and a waterfront teeming with American history. George Washington was a regular in Old Town, as was a young Robert E. Lee.
The Alexandria Times article explained how Old Town Alexandria’s onerous permit process and regulatory system have put a strain on small businesses, especially the small, independent outfits that give Old Town all of its charm. I’m fairly anti-regulation, but even I don’t have too much of a problem with city ordinances that attempt to preserve unique neighborhoods with a distinct vibe or identity, particularly when the aim is to keep the quaint, historical atmosphere of a place like Old Town. These sorts of regulations are about as localized as you can get, in this case covering just a couple dozen or so city blocks.
For example, if you want to do something as simple as change the lettering on, or repaint the sign outside of your business in Old Town, you need to both apply for and pay $50 to obtain a “ladder permit,” and apply for and pay $55 for a “building permit.”
It can take more than two weeks to get the proper paperwork, even if all you want to do is replace the “e” on your “Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe” sign. More significant changes, obviously, require more bureaucratic hassle.
The question is, should you really need to have to keep lawyer on retainer in order to open a business in Old Town? Is that really the kind of business atmosphere the city’s elected officials want to create? And if Old Town is going to make that a requirement–intentionally or not–what effect is that going to have on the small boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores that make up the very atmosphere the regulations are trying to promote?
The answer, I think, lies in what’s happened to Old Town over the last decade or so. It’s been Gap-i-fied. The independent spots are closing down, and they’re being replaced by familiar national chains. Old Town now has a Gap, a Chipotle, a Nine West, a Ross, a CVS, a Restoration Hardware, a Banana Republic, and loads of other stores you can find in just about every other part of the country. Parts of it are like a strip mall now, albeit one outfitted in Virginia red brick and quaint colonial architecture.
People who decry the Wal-Mart-ification and Gap-ificaiton of America need to realize that regulation often does more harm to local businesses than predatory pricing, loss-leader business models, or some other imagined corporate evil.
I’ve lived in or near Old Town for most of the last 10 years. It’s not at all common to see an independently-owned antique shop or art gallery get boarded over, only to be replaced in ensuing months by a franchise. It’s not difficult to see why. Franchise operators can tap the resources of the parent company, particularly when it comes to accessing legal help with experience navigating through and working with local zoning laws and business regulations.
I challenge this idiot to find a single business in Old Town that had to move out because of “excess regulation”, and not the fact that property values have skyrocketed there to the point it’s impossible for anyone but the ultra-rich to survive. This guy supposedly has lived there for 10 years and he can’t figure out this simple relationship? Instead he blames signage regulations and historical regulations? And then generalizes observations of Old Town, one of the most uptight, wealthy, and downright rare neighborhoods in the country to small businesses across the country?
This is off topic for me, but I simply can’t believe these nitwits get to call their magazine “Reason”, when clearly they’re so out of touch they can’t even analyze what’s going on in their own neighborhoods. Either that or the property values have so little effect on their net worth they don’t feel the pinch.