One option for Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, but it might be too late: a formula retail overlay
Some communities, but not very many, have zoning restrictions concerning the opening of chain retail in their cities.
• It may be for most every retail category, like in San Francisco,
• or more focused on so-called big box stores, through big box review ordinances.
• In Laguna Beach, California, they have a retail zoning categorization for what they call "neighborhood serving businesses."
The thing is that you need to have these provisions in place before a chain store comes calling, not after.
Today's Examiner has a piece, "Del Ray residents fight to keep Walgreens out," about the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, and how some residents are not in favor of the possible coming of a Walgreens pharmacy-convenience store to a site that would necessitate moving out 5 independent retailers currently located there.
Rather than an outright ban, I am in favor of conditional use permitting processes. And I think it's reasonable to include such a zoning regulation in traditional/neighborhood commercial districts. In fact, the process of creating Main Street type commercial revitalization initiatives should include a set of zoning provisions that support the program, traditional streetscapes, etc.
That being said, I recall reading a study by the Community Land Use and Economics Group found that healthy traditional commercial districts have chain stores in their overall retail mix, upwards of 15% .
Ironically, although we only see this in big cities, Walgreens, through their acquisition of Duane-Read, the New York City based pharmacy retailer, is doing some of the most innovative "pharmacy" retail in the US, with stores in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago, and San Francisco including features such as a specialty finance publications (on Wall Street), cosmetics counters, sushi bar, and draft beer on tap.
According to the DCist, in "Walgreens Upgrades From Drug Store to 'Experience'," the new Walgreens opening at 7th and H Streets NW in Downtown DC will be one of these tricked out pharmacies, with
- "A nail bar offering professional manicures"
- "Expert eyebrow shaping and grooming services"
- "Self-serve frozen yogurt dispensers and toppings for unlimited options"
- "A juice and smoothie bar"
- "An Upmarket Café offering a barista preparing fresh brewed premium coffee and espressos"
- "Walgreens’ new, virtually-enhanced pharmacy."
Imagine if in Del Ray, Walgreens would bring back the old style soda fountain--which is not an element in any of the new Walgreens/Duane-Read store innovations, but historically the firm was a big innovator in this arena.
In that case, it would be possible for a chain store to bring innovation to a neighborhood, even if usually the process is one of standardization.
In any case, having a conditional approval zoning process would provide the opportunity for more input into the result, it wouldn't necessarily mean an outright denial, although it could.