For some Venice residents and businesses, the many distinctive stores and restaurants that occupy Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk are a big part of what makes those areas of the community unique.
Now they are trying to keep the areas that way by pushing for a city ordinance banning chain stores, or “formula businesses,” from occupying space on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk, commonly called the Boardwalk.
Venice Unchained, a group dedicated to preserving the “unique character” of Venice, has led the effort to enact such an ordinance, and has created an online petition with more than 2,400 signatures to date.
The group has defined “formula restaurants and retail establishments” as businesses that are required by contractual or other arrangements to be virtually identical to businesses in other communities.
The establishments include, but are not limited to, businesses with standardized architecture, signs, decor, menus, food preparation policies, uniforms or products.
“We want to maintain our community character and this is one tool to do that,” Venice Unchained founder Dawn Hollier said of the proposed ban on chain stores.
According to the Venice Unchained petition, the small individualized retail businesses and restaurants play an important role in maintaining the community’s unique character.
The various distinctive businesses, which include boutiques, sandwich shops, and furniture, book and jewelry stores on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, would be threatened by an influx of chain stores, according to the petition.
Melissa Bechtel of Venice Unchained said that the presence of chain stores in the Abbot Kinney and Ocean Front Walk business districts would take away their originality and make them more homogenized.
“We feel that so much of L.A. and metropolitan cities look more and more similar,” Bechtel said. “We want to preserve our great city and its originality and character.
“It’s our responsibility as Venetians to preserve as much of it as we can.”
Hollier said the proposed ban is a “proactive” effort to stop chain stores before they try to come to the Boardwalk and Abbot Kinney areas.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard “is really becoming so vibrant and that’s when the chains move in,” Hollier said.
Some California cities, including Arcata, Calistoga, Carmel, Coronado, Pacific Grove, San Francisco, Sausalito and Solvang, have already successfully enacted an ordinance banning chain stores in parts of the community.
The move to ban chain stores from occupying certain areas of Venice has received support from a number of the area store owners, the Venice Chamber of Commerce and the Venice Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee.
Challis MacPherson, Land Use and Planning Committee co-chair, said the proposed ban on chain stores would help maintain the uniqueness of the community and prevent it from becoming “the same place as everywhere else in the world.”
The Venice Neighborhood Council board of directors also voted Tuesday, June 20th, to support the ban and send a letter to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl requesting his support.
Neighborhood Council member Michael King said the proposal has some issues that “really aren’t fair” because some original Venice businesses like Jody Maroni’s on the Boardwalk are now chains.
But while some Neighborhood Council members agreed that the definition of “formula businesses” should be studied further, they are in support of preserving the uniqueness of the community.
The community has been able to maintain the individuality of those areas and wants to continue maintaining it, MacPherson said.
Virginia Amy Scripps, owner of Press Kitchen, a public relations agency on Abbot Kinney, said she moved her business there because of the “character of the neighborhood,” but chain stores would bring a homogenous look.
“I really enjoy being in a place that has a distinct character,” she said.
Scripps said she already has difficulty affording the rent for office space on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and is concerned that if chain stores come to the area, the rent may increase. The chain stores will be able to afford a higher rent, but some smaller existing businesses may not, she said.
“When chain stores come in they take business away from local vendors,” Scripps claimed.
But Venice resident and business owner Jim Murez said a ban on chain stores is unlikely to happen.
“I don’t see how it could possibly be implemented,” Murez said. “Someplace along the way there will be a level of discrimination.”
While the Venice Chamber of Commerce has supported the ban on chain stores, incoming chamber president Alex Rosales said some chamber members were concerned that the ban would prevent the spread of more business to the distinct areas.
“It’s not a matter of stopping business, but a particular type of business,” Rosales said.