I am delighted at the volume of the response to my previous post about the movement to bring Trader Joe’s to the Capital Region (even if most of the comments disagreed with me!). If these passionate posts are any indication, Trader Joe’s should start breaking ground here immediately.
I would like to point out that most people involved in the Local First movement recognize that we are going to be living with chains for the foreseeable future, and also that not all of our needs are met by locally owned businesses.
I would also like to give some credit to Trader Joe’s for leaving a relatively small footprint, for not trying to be a community’s all-powerful retailer (Wal-Mart) or even trying to take over the majority of the market share in one category (Starbucks).
But I do take issue with one suggestion that came up in a couple of posts: the notion that opposing the proliferation of chain stores is “Smallbany” thinking. In fact, I’d like to argue that it’s quite the opposite.
You may not agree with it or embrace it, but the movement to support sustainable local economies is rooted in the belief—backed up by considerable persuasive scholarship—that the stronger your local business community, the more wealth stays in your community (instead of being shipped out to pay for bloated corporate salaries, PR campaigns, lobbying for tax breaks, etc.), and that this in turn leads to better urban planning and less sprawl; a greater sense of civic pride; more participatory democracy; and a stronger community identity. Again, you may or may not agree, but this philosophy is hardly rooted in fear or small-mindedness.
Before Starbucks opened its first store here, its many fans might have made similar arguments (even though the indie coffee here is equally good or better). Now that there is a Starbucks everywhere you look, do you think it has made the Capital Region look or feel more progressive? No, it just makes it look more like everywhere else. When residents speak positively of the quality of life here, do they talk about Wolf Road and Crossgates Commons, and how every suburb seems to have a Target and a Panera? Or do they talk about the unique downtowns, neighborhoods, architecture, arts institutions, and thriving local arts and music scenes? Chains may fill certain needs, but they do not give us our identity or sense of civic pride.
As much as I like Trader Joe’s, I’d still rather not see one here because I don’t think we need it, and, however else you slice it, it’s a chain. Then again, as the many comments on the last post suggest, maybe it will fill the upscale-food-downscale-price niche better than anything here at the moment, and maybe it will prove complementary to the co-ops and farmers markets. We probably will have a TJ’s here soon. . . . and then, get ready . . . for the Whole Foods invasion!