Skip to content


Topic #3
Chain me to the independent shop, why don't you?




When we moved to San Francisco from the East Coast four years ago, I was completely and whole heartedly pro-chain store.  I couldn't imagine going to a family-run restaurant or coffee shop with mismatched chairs and thrift-store couches when I could have shiny chrome sameness wherever I went.  I remember seeing countless Letters to the Editor written by residents trying to keep chain stores from homogenizing the unique neighborhoods that make the city The City.  

At the time, I thought they were all fools trying to stop positive urban progress.  What did I care about neighborhoods?  In Boston and Hartford, people wandered through life anonymously.  No one really acknowledged anyone else; not the way we're used to now.  After living in the same SF apartment for four years, I now understand the importance of preserving  neighborhoods.  

We live in the Lower Haight area of SF, an enclave more grungy than hippie, and definitely not yuppie. Until very recently this area has been safe from the encroaching chain stores…until they opened up a Pasta Pomodoro, one of the most yuppie of all the fast-food-pasta- places around.  It completely sticks out like a sore thumb, mostly because a great majority of the people that live in theis neighborhood are pierced, tattooed, and unconservative. Even though we eat pasta all the time, we refuse to set foot in a place that displaced a perfectly fine independently run Italian restaurant.

The Financial District is becoming even worse, what with four main chains all competing for whatever open space is currently on the market.  I'll cut a little slack for this area, what with all the bank employees having to eat quickly during work…but variety anyone?  Why does there need to be four Starbucks within a two block radius?  A perfectly fine French cafe just closed down to make way for yet another Briazz Cafe/Jamba Juice combination.  Don't worry, if you change your mind after you pass it, just keep walking.  In another two and a half blocks, you'll be having deja vu.

I'm sure there are a great majority of people who praise the chains for their convenience, variety and cheaper prices. I'd rather pay a few more cents for real people behind the counters who enjoy the community as much as you do.  I know the people in my neighborhood, and the businesses that they own are what makes it worth it to live here.  My neighborhood has flavor, which is more than I can say for Starbucks!

It's funny. When I travel on business, I always ask the locals where to go for a drink or dinner. In my last 4 trips, I have eaten dinner at a TGI Fridays, an Old Chicago Pizza, Eastside Marios and a number of hotel bars and restaurants. I have had people recommend Planet Hollywoods and Hard Rock Cafes. Only once have I ever made it to a REAL local hangout when I travel (the Harbor Inn in Cleveland&#41.

It's funny, because when I'm entertaining people from out of town, I would never think of taking them to the Hard Rock, or a Pizzeria Uno. I want people to see the real San Francisco: Dinner at L'Osteria del Forno, drinks at the Toronado… places where they might be the only out of towners in the joint.

It's funny, as much as I hate chain restaurants and bars… I tend to prefer chain coffee shops. I mean, I hate the fact that within a 3 block radius from my office there are 4 Pasquas and 4 Starbucks. That's overkill.

When I get coffee at the Horseshoe, it's hit or miss. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it could strip the paint off of a car. Starbucks coffee is never great but it is consistently mediocre.

I guess that's why people like chain restaurants. You know that at every TGI Friday's you can get an order of chicken wings that tastes like every other order of chicken wings at every other Fridays.

There are other times when I really prefer chain stores. Specifically, I couldn't do without chain drug stores. I like the fact that I can get my prescriptions re-filled at any Walgreens in the nation, 24 hours a day. Sorry, folks, but I have no use for mom-and-pop drug stores.

Sometimes, I like having the option of a chain or a local shop. The new Super Safeway down the street is great… except for the fact that you can't get Frank's Red Hot (an integral part of any decent Buffalo Wing recipe&#41 or decent fish. These items I gladly pay top dollar for at locally owned non-chain Grand Central Market.

So, what is my position on Chain Stores versus Independent Shops? I guess it's this: chain shops have a place… sometimes it's place is for convenience or comfort, knowing that I can get a Yoo Hoo at any Walgreens means that when I am having a bad day, I don't have to search out a small store which MAY or MAY NOT have a Yoo Hoo. However, if I have to have another Pizzeria Uno pan pizza on my next trip, I'm just going to scream!

Still, I miss my Dunkin Donuts Coffee.

Posted in Topics of the Week (1990s).

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.