The growing pervasiveness of chain stores is something New York State's historic villages and towns have fought to halt in their communities for years, and now state says he has the legislation that will do just that.
A new bill Thiele has drafted, if passed, would give municipalities the express authority to enact restrictions and prohibitions on "formula" retail uses, i.e. chain stores with standardized merchandise, apparel, facades, decor and signage. It should come as welcome news to preservationists who worry that chains replacing independent businesses and mom and pop stores will erode community character.
“This is a recurring issue that local governments are dealing with not just on the East End of Long Island, but certainly across the country," Thiele said, adding that he saw it come up as the village attorney for Sag Harbor. The village wanted to regulate formula stores, “but it was unclear whether they had the authority under state law,” he said.
"Because of a lack of state legislation, there’s been really a kind of chilling effect," Thiele said.
He noted that his proposed law is not a mandate — it only gives villages and towns the option.
The assemblyman said that some communities on Long Island welcome chain stores, but in others, particularity on the East End, where virtually every village has a historic district and a comprehensive plan to protect its character through zoning, his proposal will help.
“There is a concern about maintaining community character, that historic nature, that sense that makes each village different,” Thiele said.
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said he supports Thiele's bill.
“This is perfect for us because it really follows suit with our village business district zoning regulations and architectural guidelines that we're working on putting in place,” he said.
Thiele said that such laws have been court tested in other communities across the country and what he found in his research is that a law designed to preserve community character will withstand a challenge. However, if a law is implemented to give a competitive advantage to local businesses, it will not be upheld. “If all that’s in the record is economic competition, I think there’s trouble,” he said, adding that his law helps make the necessary distinction.
Epley said that Southampton Village's existing zoning laws have kept out chain stores of a certain size. "Most of our buildings don’t meet the minimum square foot requirements for most of these large, big box stores." And that's the way he likes it: “We redid the code in an effort to try to keep the charcter of the village a little bit smaller,” he said.
The mayor said the village doesn't want to kick out all chains. He pointed to on Main Street, saying it is a beautiful store that meets all size requirements, participates in the community and hires local people; “They do all the things you want businesses to do.”
When a village has the right to say yes or no to chain stores, it becomes a balancing act, Epley said, as the village board has to consider the occupancy rate of retail space.
The proposed legislation is specific to retail uses, and does not mention chain eateries.
Thiele said he is trying to get as many co-sponsors on board as he can before officially filing the legislation, and a copy of the bill was sent to his counterpart in the State Senate, Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, R-Port Jefferson.