Monday, September 18, 2006

Letter to the Editor, Inside

To the Editor, Inside:

It was refreshing to see an article on Local First Chicago's efforts to encourage more locally operated business in the city. Further on in the paper, we see the efforts in lakefront wards to preserve their unique character by introducing a "formula retail" ordinance. These two items are set against the backdrop of the "big box" ordinance veto, all in the same issue of your paper.

I hope it is clear to some that these three articles are related melodies from a single theme. The political activity is a response to a single phenomenon of external capital stresses. When nationalized and globalized corporations derive their capital force from investment outside the local economy, they enjoy economies that local capital cannot easily compete with. The uniform branding and marketing, price pointing, labor control, and centralized management combine to contribute to their notorious levels of success, undermining locally owned commerce.

This comes at a price to the city. As Diane Epstein correctly pointed out, local businesses keep much more of every dollar spent within the community - 25 cents more. That 25 cents flows out of the city with chain business. As much of the capital from chains comes from outside of the area, much of the profit must necessarily flow out as well.

Not only that, but the external power provides for larger (or else smaller and more diffuse, similar effect) and better promoted stores, with lower overheads, which overpower small business and draw clientele away. This is why Chicago is suffering.

These effects should be obvious but we are only now beginning to recognize them. When the city center's last affordable local supermarket was threatened with closure, I began devising a plan which has since evolved into the Retail Access Master Plan (RAMP) that addresses all of these concerns under one umbrella. On the table are significant sales tax incentives for locally owned business and a corresponding surtax for global business - that is, a sliding scale for taxes based on an index of how locally owned and operated one's store is.

In addition, certain areas have lost important amenities due to related pressures. Because of the increased retail rents in gentrified areas like Lincoln Park, we see no affordable supermarkets, no laundromats, and so on. RAMP addresses this by causing the city to acquire real estate in certain areas where investment is too low or too high, and to entrust the land to a community partner who will act as landlord to a business that will provide the service to the community. The rent will be well below market rate.

There are other components to RAMP. This is ultimately a citywide plan, not just a selective one that picks on only a few entities or a certain area. RAMP is far more comprehensive, and addresses the problems more directly, than the controversial "formula store" and "big box" ordinances, which are at best band-aids. Business and commerce interests who have looked at this plan agree that it is more intriguing than the others.

I invite Ald. Daley to join me in developing this plan. You can download a copy of the most recent draft at:

Peter Zelchenko
Candidate for Alderman
43rd Ward


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