Construction of new storefront and business spaces in Jamaica Plain is now underway. And in March, the City of Boston released a report saying it wants to boost small businesses in the neighborhoods, partly by making the variance and permitting process easier for them.
A common cry from the JP community since the 1970s has been “no chains here.” JP is well known for favoring businesses and franchises that are locally owned. National chain pizza shops, for just one example, were blocked by locals from the Curley Lot (now parking across from the Curley School), the current site of JP Seafood Cafe and, more recently, where JP Knit & Stitch is located.
Unfortunately, some people instantly misinterpret community opposition to chains as a desire—perhaps inspired by local business owners—to block “healthy competition” with existing small businesses. No way.
Savvy neighbors and business groups in JP have much more important reasons for preferring independently-owned retail, service, and food establishments in the neighborhood.
JP Local First lists reasons to support locally-owned businesses based on research, on its website, including: preserving the unique character of JP; creating jobs and responsible entrepreneurship; and supporting environmental sustainability.
The site points to studies that show for every $100 spent at a locally-owned business, $48 gets recycled into the local economy. Chain stores only spend about $14 locally, mostly in wages.
Small businesses also seem more likely to cooperate in business promotion efforts like JP Centre/South Main Streets’ First Thursdays and holiday decorations projects.
The board of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (JP BAPA)—representing businesses primarily along South and Centre streets to Moraine Street for decades—is often asked to give its support to businesses in need of City zoning and licensing approvals. About ten years ago, the group developed a written policy to automatically approve many of those requests in order to encourage small businesses.
An important exception is if the business is “part of a chain or is a franchise, where important decisions are not made locally.” In that case, representatives of the chain have to make a presentation to the BAPA board of directors and answer questions about how they will operate in relationship to the local community. The BAPA board issues a support letter only if satisfied that the business will do decision-making locally and also participate in community efforts.
Over the years, BAPA and the community have had too many experiences with national chains whose decisions about everything—from products sold to appearance to snow removal to donating to local nonprofits to community participation and hiring practices—are made far, far away. The farther away decision- and policy-makers are, the less likely the local community can engage them in cooperative enterprises and conversations when needed.
Other conditions, such as large size, grates, extensive construction, alcohol service, and changing the basic use of a space, also trigger BAPA review.
BAPA’s approval process is good for the community and for businesses that want to locate in JP. Other organizations should consider using similar guidelines.
Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. She serves on the board of the JP Business and Professional Association as a self-employed JP resident.