Hipsters and Elitists versus Chain Stores
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Hipsters and Elitists versus Chain Stores

New York City’s hipster and elitist class seem to believe that they should have some role in determining what business owners do with their property. Like hipsters and elitists around the country, New York’s cohort are banding together to protest companies that do not present the utopian vision for the neighbors where these elites dwell (most of whom are renters, by the way). There is much buzz in New York City right now because more and more national chains are setting up shop causing great consternation. In a recent AM New York newspaper story, readers get a sense of the angst:

An influx of chain restaurants and food shops over the past few years has some New Yorkers decrying a trend of “suburbanization,” as national brands like 7-Eleven, IHOP, Starbucks, Subway and more open in increasing numbers and threaten to push out the mom-and-pop shops that have defined the city for generations.

In 2012, the number of chains here jumped 2.4% from 2011, according to a study from the Center for an Urban Future, marking the fifth year in a row of an increase in national chains in the city. And with a Denny’s slated to open downtown later this year, two new recent IHOP franchises in downtown Manhattan and many new 7-Elevens on the way, some New Yorkers have had enough.

According to the article, residents are complaining about the chains because “there are way too many. They’re part of a larger trend of suburbanization that’s been going on in the city,” says Jeremiah Moss, who runs the blog Vanishing New York “These are not one-of-a-kind businesses, they’re clones of each other, and they don’t feel like New York because they’re not of New York,” Moss laments.

These laments raise really interesting questions like: Why does a neighborhood need to only have one-of-a-kind businesses? When has that ever been a sustainable model in the history of business? By what authority do elites like Moss get to decide what businesses appear in New York City and which ones do not? The questions could go on.

Wait, there’s more. There is one group on New York that has specifically formed to protest 7-Eleven stores. The group “No 7-Eleven” began to fight the influx of 7-Eleven stores across New York but has since expanded to protest chains in general. Imagine that. They started out with one concept and expanded. I wonder if this sounds familiar to them? At any rate, the group says that they “intend to defend local commerce and community character from homogenized, corporate chain stores and franchises.” The group says, “The chain stores in New York City take away from the city’s character,” according to the AM New York article. “Anything special, unique or culturally significant in New York City is being pushed out and replaced with big brand names and predictable experiences the tourists and transients feel safe with.”

Have these hipsters and elites ever bothered to asked this one simple question: why are the chains coming to New York City? Here’s a clue: New York is the most expensive state in America to run a business and the city is even worse. Because of the cascade of government regulations and high rents, due to rent control in the city, the only stores that can afford to absorb the additional regulatory costs are big chains. New Yorkers, like all consumers, want the best prices for the things that they buy and big chains can afford to make decisions about the importance of branding versus slightly lower margins on products sold in stores. “Mom and Pop” stores cannot afford the same trade off. As one small business owner recently told me, “You can’t beat a corporation that can operate on a 5% margin.”

In the end, hipsters and elites in New York need to face the reality that, in the real world, businesses come and go and neighborhoods change. When small businesses cannot meet market demands any company will appear to meet the demand more efficiently and at a competitive price. Controlling a neighborhood’s “character” for the sake of maintaining an elitist social vision does nothing but keep people from getting what they actually need.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.