Way out West, in Sonoma, Calif., a debate we have been keeping an eye on is continuing about making it difficult for “formula” retailers to move into the area. The Sonoma City Council has been kicking around a draft ordinance that would subject stores that are part of chains with more than 10 outlets to additional permit review. City leaders had rejected a proposal for a temporary moratorium on such operations late last year.
Arguing for local standards and additional review, backers say that the 10,000-resident city’s economic fortune is tied to the charm of its downtown and stand-apart ambience. Much the same could be said for the shopping blocks in East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and parts of Southampton.
In some sections of the South Fork, architectural standards and tough review can be imposed; in others, not so much. Want to put up a 7-Eleven, Starbucks, or Subway in Montauk, Amagansett, or on North Main Street? The permit process is pretty much the same as for mom-and-pop shops.
As in Fredericksburg, Tex., and Bristol, R.I., Sonoma could be in the vanguard of the effort to block the spread of cookie-cutter downtowns or mini-malls. This should be watched closely here, especially in East Hampton Village, where papered windows on the facades of formula retailers — open only for the summer buck and gone in winter — are a daily affront.