Yesterday, our local independent weekly, the Colorado Springs Independent, released Volume I of the 2011 Best Of Colorado Springs issue. Much debate was generated on Twitter that night regarding the inclusion of national chains when some of the vocal locals saw the results of a few categories. The consensus among the tweets I saw (and my opinion) is that CSIndy should drop national chains from next year’s Best Of.
CSIndy is one of the few remaining locally owned independent weekly newspapers left in the US. It serves the greater Colorado Springs area. Its publisher, John Weiss, is a true character. It provides a nice counter to The Gazette, a daily newspaper owned by the national and right-wing Freedom Communications, by providing investigative articles on local politics and progressive opinion pieces.
To set the stage for this argument,Colorado Springs is the town that brought you Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a book examining the influences of America’s fast food society. To drive up and down Academy Boulevard here, a street that stretches across the eastern side of our city in an arc, is to encounter just about every national food chain that exists. We are saturated with national chains (with the exception of In & Out, and yes, I do lament that fact). They are not only well represented here but on the eastern side of town they are just about your only choices for dining out. In short: we know them well because they are ubiquitous.
What we do not know well in this town, seen in light of the results of the 2011 Best Of survey, are the local dining options. What needs to be promoted in this town (I use ‘town’ facetiously, we have 600,000 people in the county) are the locally owned businesses. These are the gems of Colorado Springs, built and supplied with local money and sundries; these are the dining experiences you can *only* get here, under the shadow of America’s mountain. These local establishments represent our best and should be the only thing rewarded in an annual survey published by a local paper of where to eat.
To illustrate using the most egregious example, coming in 1st in Burgers is…. Red Robin. Yes, Red Robin, with 3 happy locations to serve you in town and 100s elsewhere. The lure of national chains is not arguable: they are consistent, they are everywhere, they are convenient in the sense that they tend to be on large avenues, near strip malls and with ample parking. If I am all the way out on Powers (we’re getting closer to Kansas on this long boulevard that rings the city), I am probably going to go to Red Robin if I want to sit down and eat a good burger. And that burger will be the same burger I can get at any other Red Robin coast to coast. If that burger represents the Best Of Colorado Springs, then we have given up on our town. Forget about you, Cy’s Drive-In, with your local callicrate beef, never frozen and sans hormones. Screw you, The Famous, with your elegant downtown red booths and giant, tasty cheeseburgers. The Keg? Take your buffalo burgers elsewhere, we don’t want them – that’s what we’re saying when we vote Red Robin as the Best of the Springs for burgers.
This town is fortunate to have some true geniuses cooking up food in local eateries. Let’s reward them and only them. To be fair, most of the Best of 2011 categories were actually won by local businesses (whew), but it is truly a slap in the face to our entrepreneurs and chefs to report that any national chain is the best this community can do when it comes to eating out. It’s simply not true and if I have to go on a dining spree for the next 6 months and reports all my finds to demonstrate this, I will, but do start with Oinkety, a local foodie blog, while you wait for me.
There’s another reason to reward locals and to ignore the chains: locals are great for our economy. Many studies have shown that locally owned businesses put more money back into the local economy than national chains do.
In Economic Impact Analysis: A Case Study Local Merchants vs Chain Retailers (pdf), a study conducted in Austin, TX, shows that local retailers
- spent a larger portion of total revenues on local labor than national chains
- keep their modest profits in the local economy
- provide strong support for local artists and authors, creating further local economic impact
When residents… spent $100 at a big box retailer, their purchase generates $14 in local spending by the retailer. That same $100 spent at a locally owned business generates $45 in local spending, or 3 times as much.
In Locally Owned vs. Chain: The Local Premium PDF, a study conducted in Chicago, IL, shows nearly the same results and cites 4 factors as contributing: the same 2 as the Austin study (payroll, profits) and additionally that local business are twice as likely to procure locally as national chains and donated more on average to local charity than national chains. A study conducted in New Orleans, Thinking Outside the Box (PDF),reports that local businesses generate two to three times more local economic activity than chain businesses.
Fleming and Goetz argue in the academic paper, Does Local Firm Ownership Matter?, using a data set encompassing all US counties, that those counties with a larger density of small, locally owned businesses saw greater per capita income growth whereas the presence of large, non-local businesses had a negative effect on incomes.
So, yes, our local independent paper ought to be encouraging that residents of our little cow town of half a million people on the front range reward local by asking them to only vote local. It’s more representative of what makes the Pikes Peak region unique for foodies but it’s also good for our stagnant economy.
Here are the chains that won (outside of specified ‘national’ categories):
- American: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse (3rd)
- BBQ: Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
- Biscuits & Gravy: Cracker Barrel
- Bread: PaneraBread
- Buffalo Wings: Buffalo Wild Wings, Wingstop, Wild Wings and Things*
- Buffet: Golden Corral, Old Country Buffet (3rd)
- Burger: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Smashburger
- Chinese: P.F. Changs
- Dessert Destination: The Melting Pot (3rd)
- Diner: Gunter Toody’s*
- Restaurant for Kids that Isn’t fast Food: Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
- Seafood: Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack
- Salads: Souper! Salad, Panera Bread
- Smoothie: Keva Juice, Jamba Juice
- Soup: Panera Bread, Souper! Salad
- Steakhouse: Texas Roadhouse (2nd)
- Take Out: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chili’s Papa Murphy’s
- Waitstaff: Texas Roadhouse
* indicates regional chains, which arguably ought to be included as they only serve the local area