Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Richardson's Empty Storefronts

Ever wonder why Richardson has so many empty storefronts? Maybe it's because Richardson's city council spends too much time keeping businesses out of Richardson and too little time attracting them.

Case in point: the following is a (lightly edited) slide presented at the October 14 city council meeting.
  • City Council has expressed an interest in making certain the City has a well balanced, diverse mixture of retail establishments.
  • To that end, staff constantly looks for opportunities to enhance existing regulations, especially when it observes new trends in the community.
  • Recently, an influx of applications for [a certain kind of] establishment have been received.
  • Consistent with how other similar establishments have been treated, regulations regarding where these businesses can locate may be desirable to prevent clustering and ensure location appropriateness in keeping with the community’s standards.
After the jump, is this the right way to attract small business to Richardson?

In short, the council wants to restrict electronic cigarette businesses.

You might think that, wanting a "well balanced, diverse mixture of retail establishments," the city would be out trying to attract new kinds of business, or at least not taking actions that might give Richardson a reputation for being unwelcoming to new kinds of business. You'd be wrong. When was the last time the city council asked for a presentation on developing markets that could lead to opportunities to attract new kinds of businesses to Richardson?

Judging by the council's reaction in this case, you might think that Richardson is being invaded by e-cigarette businesses. You'd be wrong here, too. There are eight. In comparison, Yelp lists 25 gas stations in Richardson, but the city council never seems to mind adding one more. If a "well balanced mixture" is truly the goal here, we could triple the number of e-cigarette establishments and still not reach balance with the number of gas stations. Did the city council ever express a concern that eight gas stations or eight hamburger places or eight banks were too many and maybe we should require special permits for anyone wanting to build another? No. Balance is hardly the goal here.

Maybe the council is afraid that eight could grow into eighty or eight hundred. Is this even a reasonable fear? The slide presentation warned of an "influx" of applications but didn't quantify how many applications constitute an influx. The city didn't explain why the free market will break down and lead to a supply greatly exceeding demand. I have more faith in the free market than the city council does.

The city says it wants to be "consistent with how other similar establishments have been treated." Translation: we discriminated against hookah bars in the past, so now discrimination is a precedent available for use against any business that we don't particularly like. That's what this is really about. The give-away is in the fourth bullet, the one about keeping up the "community's standards." Seven city council members, all of a certain age and background, don't think e-cigarettes are quite up to Richardson's standards. But instead of going out and attracting businesses that *are* up to Richardson's standards, the city council puts up the "Not Welcome Here" sign. And just maybe that's contributing to why Richardson has so many empty storefronts.


Mark Steger said...

This topic reminds me of the old advice that the best defense against weeds is a strong, healthy lawn. I think the city council is spending too much time and money on weed killer.

Sassy Texan said...

I tend to agree with you once again. This is getting really scary!