A City Council Idea Could Slow the Starbucks-ification of Boston

It would force chains to get an extra permit, and face down possibly angry neighbors.

Photo via iStock/bensib

Sick of chains like Starbucks pushing out small businesses and swapping local character for squeaky clean corporate sheen? Boston’s City Council has an idea that would give neighborhoods more say about whether to let the coffee chain—and any other big name, like CVS, Verizon, Target, or what have you—open its billionth location in their backyard.

The proposal, which WGBH reports was introduced by councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey, and Lydia Edwards on Wednesday, would require that any retail store with more than 11 locations get a permit from the Zoning Board of Appeal, which would subject them to a hearing with the public.

Too late, you say? We’re already overrun by chains as it is, and there’s no going back? Not so fast.

Consider the recent upheaval in the North End, where residents fumed over the impact a proposed new Starbucks at the neighborhood’s entrance would have on the historic area, and made so much noise about the issue (with help from Mayor Walsh), that the developer responsible for it canned it.

Never mind that in terms of change coming to Little Italy, Starbucks is the least of the North End’s problems. And, really, who’s to say how successful raising hell at a ZBA hearing over a new Petco or Au Bon Pain might really be in the face of rapid, ongoing gentrification? But the fact is it’s still possible to keep Big Coffee or Big Fried Chicken at bay if neighbors are motivated and pissed off enough, and have a big enough platform to do it. New zoning requirements could provide that platform.