Chains are fine, but eating local benefits Winchester more

This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on May 23, 2019

Recently news emerged of two new franchise restaurants which may come to Winchester. By my count, this would bring to seven the number of new chain eating establishments that will have opened here since the fall of 2015 when I moved to town.

I admit to having mixed feelings about all of this.

On the one hand, any new business opening its doors in town is a good sign. Besides the obvious benefit to consumers of more dining choices, there is the economic impact of new jobs and new commercial activity.

On the other hand, during this same period, several locally-owned eateries have closed or are struggling. I can think of at least five such establishments that have closed, and no doubt there are others.

Perhaps it’s a bias of mine, but I prefer unique, locally-owned and managed establishments over chain stores and franchise restaurants. (I do realize some franchise restaurants are owned and operated by locals, but even then some profits must leave our community to pay royalties, franchise fees, and cooperative advertising fees.)

My hope is we can continue to grow our stock of unique local establishments while welcoming more chain establishments to town. But my fear is that increased competition from large corporate restaurants will drive more of our small establishments out of business.

And that would be a shame on many levels.

As I alluded to above, the economic impact of a dollar spent at a local business is much greater than a dollar spent at a chain store. In many cases, people who own small businesses also live in the community, shop here and pay taxes here. As for chains, depending on whether it is a franchise or company-owned unit, almost all the revenue above and beyond salaries could potentially leave town.

According to studies compiled by the American Independent Business Alliance, “on average, 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores.”

Think of that. If you spend a dollar at a chain store or restaurant, as much as 86 cents of that dollar leaves Winchester permanently. But nearly half a dollar spent with a local independent merchant could potentially stay right here, keeping our local economy humming. The percentages are only averages — the actual numbers will vary widely depending on the type of business and many other factors.

The same group found independent retailers tend to employ more people per unit of sale than large chain stores.

Further, it’s the local establishments that give a town its distinct character. When you’re enjoying a fresh sandwich at Gaunce’s, a steak at DJ’s, or a pizza at the Engine House, you know you’re in Winchester. Nobody drives here from Paris or Irvine for McDonald’s, but it’s a safe bet some do for Loma’s at the Opera House.

Let me emphasize it again. I am not against chain establishments and franchise restaurants. You are likely to see me shopping at Walmart or eating at KFC or Fazoli’s on occasion. Patronizing any business — independent or not — in Winchester is good. Better than driving to Lexington, right?

As I said, my hope remains we can continue to enjoy the best of all worlds by building a thriving shopping, dining, and entertainment sector that includes all types of establishments. And I will never criticize anyone who wants to open a franchise here.

But let’s keep an eye on our local entrepreneurs, the ones who are the backbone of our business community. Let’s support them first and foremost.

Final thought: Cheddar’s didn’t invent beer cheese, and Ale-8-One didn’t come from PepsiCo.

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