Boston City Councilors Propose Legislation to Protect Local Economy

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The Boston City Council is considering legislation that would amend the city’s Zoning Code to regulate chain retail stores and subject them to additional scrutiny.

City Councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey, and Lydia Edwards introduced the proposed legislation on July 11. It states that “locally owned businesses contribute to the economic and social vitality of the neighborhoods throughout the City of Boston, and the City of Boston should recognize the importance of small and locally owned businesses in its land use and planning objectives.”

The legislation aims to support independent businesses by implementing what is known as a formula business policy. If implemented in Boston, this policy would recognize chain stores as a distinct land use and would require a conditional use permit for such businesses to open and operate in a neighborhood business district. Residents would be able to weigh in through the public process of obtaining a conditional use permit. According to the North End Waterfront, the amendment was referred to the Committee on Planning, Development, and Transportation for a hearing before a potential vote by the Council. If approved by the Council, it would then be submitted to the Boston Zoning Commission for approval.

“Small businesses across the city are facing commercial gentrification and increasing pressure from the national chains,” said Councilor Wu, as reported by the North End Waterfront. “This legislation gives jobs in our neighborhood by giving residents and stakeholders a voice, so that our business districts are not just shaped by which multinational corporations can offer the highest rents.”

According to The Boston Globe, friction between local residents and chain businesses was recently evident when Starbucks attempted to open a store in Boston’s North End, a historically Italian-American neighborhood replete with independent coffee shops. Neighborhood residents, with the support of Mayor Marty Walsh, opposed the new location and the developer pulled the proposal.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) points out that Boston isn’t alone in its desire to take action regarding strengthening local businesses: “From major cities like San Francisco to Jersey City, New Jersey, to small communities like Port Townsend, Washington, these policies have proven effective, durable, and popular.”

ILSR offers a number of resources for residents and independent business owners who would like to learn more about formula business policies, including an overview of communities around the country that have implemented formula business policies; a deep-dive into San Francisco’s formula business policy; an article on Jersey City’s policy; and a talk by AnMarie Rodgers, a senior policy advisor in San Francisco who explains the city’s policy and how it won support.

ILSR also provides resources for small business owners looking to take action in their own cities. The Local Policy Action Toolkit comprises the tools necessary for independent businesses to engage with public officials and advocate for policies — including formula business policies — that can support the local economy. The toolkit was developed by ILSR and Advocates for Independent Business, a coalition of trade associations for independent businesses, including the American Booksellers Association.