Sonoma Eyes Chains

   In a remarkable turn of events that could have implications on the South Fork, Williams-Sonoma may be blocked from returning to the California city that gave the cookware company its name if a new ordinance against “formula” retail stores is adopted.
    The $3 billion company, with 268 stores in the United States, first opened as a single shop in Sonoma in 1956, then moved to San Francisco. Now it has plans to open a store on the original site, but the city council is close to passing a moratorium on chain businesses while it works on permanent limits.
    A leading proposal would subject retailers with 10 or more outlets to a permit review in which the look and layout of their outlets would be considered. As the Sonoma Press-Democrat described it, formula chains would have to “promote diversity and variety, be consistent with Sonoma’s unique and historic characteristics, and be compatible with existing uses.”
    To some extent, permit review here already allows for an aesthetic look at commercial projects. However, the ideas from Sonoma seem much tougher and could offer guidance on strengthening our own rules. The process on the far side of the country bears watching.