Who controls planning in Davis?
POINT A: The city has a retail study done. It finds 45%of Davis' over all shopping needs are sat is fied out of town. More than 80% of clothing, home furnishings, and de part ment store merchandise is bought else where. In con trast, our bookstores were found to meet the community's needs and even to bring in out of town shoppers. The study was to be a guide for planning the future retail development of Davis.
POINT B: A 20,000 sq. ft. book superstore is to anchor a mall at the worst traffic chokepoint in town. Does this look like good planning or common sense?
Arriving at point B was assured when many of the planning choices were left to Sacramento developer, Mark Friedman. Instead of the clothing store anchor mentioned earlier in the planning process, once he had the planners' trust he ran for the Borders and asked them to SHOW ME THE MONEY. Since book superstore money is good for Friedman's wallet at Roseville, Elk Grove, Fair Oaks Boulevard, and Arden Fair, it's no surprise that Friedman's wallet decided that Borders money was good for his Davis mall. Let's get out of his wallet and ask one question. Should Friedman's wallet be plan ning our future? This wallet would ignore the needs of the people, for ev er alter our down town, force busi ness es out, and gut one of the few sectors of retail that fulfills our city's needs.
The developer, Borders, some city council members, and others weave fantasies of superstores being "good news" for independent book stores -- some are lying, some are engaged in wishful thinking, and others are simply misinformed. My wife, Vicky, and I have more than 45 years of bookselling experience, all across the country, and we have never met one independent bookseller experiencing this "good news." What has been the news? Since the 1970's, the in de pen dents share of the bookselling market has eroded from 58% to 19%. The four largest chains now contol 26% of the market. The last 18 months have seen 260 in de pen dents forced to close. This is the shrinking di ver si ty of choice that Bob Dun ning doesn't see as a loss.
The developer and our mayor offered Palo Alto as an exception to the national rule of chain ruination of independents. Vicky called most of Palo Alto's independent bookstores after a Chamber spokesperson stated that Borders was "not a negative impact." None had been contacted by the Chamber and, after hearing about the article, only one distant, used bookstore, would, with numerous qualifications, kind of agree with it. Comparing Davis and Palo Alto is tomatoes and computer chips. It's like comparing Davis independents to Palo Alto's giant, older, nationally-known independents. Major in de pen dents and specialized niche bookstores stand the only chance of fighting off this nationwide plague of homogenized, discount superstores.
After Friedman repeatedly said that different stores weren't interested in Davis because the market wasn't here, I asked him how that same market could support a Borders superstore. His answer was that Borders feels there are enough unspent book dollars to support this big box that would be bigger than all of our downtown bookstores put together. Having managed both chain and independent bookstores in Davis for close to 15 years, I must be blind to all those millions of book dollars that Borders sees all the way from Ann Arbor, Michigan. If I'm blind, are the rest of the Davis booksellers illiterate because they can't read the book market like Borders? Jerry Kaneko's cable TV theories about book market saturation aside, the fact is that the money just isn't there folks.
Competition is tough in Davis. Gayle's Books gave up the struggle after 30 years. We worked with the owners and came up with a creative solution to make a depressing transition easier. Independent bookstores compete and cooperate. Referring customers and working together to find each store's fit in the market's delicate balance is what being part of a book community is about. A superstore doesn't seek to become part of a book community. It means to replace it.
Borders would arrive with such backing that making a profit could wait while they capture the market for themselves. This superstore would be seven times the size of our largest independent bookstore, bigger than all combined, and just two blocks away from most. If this anchor was dropped on our retail ecosystem, the economic waves would spread quickly. The Next Chapter, to survive, would be forced to move away. Several other bookstores would fail, and all would be damaged. Borders Group Incorporated would close its Davis Waldenbooks. UC Davis, after selling the land to Friedman, will see that they have shot themselves in their own bookstore's foot. The shopping and social style of downtown Davis would be forever changed as much of the existing retail energy is drained from the present businesses. Instead of strolling between the local shops on our downtown streets, many people will be left fighting to get into the mall's parking lot for that one-stop-shopping, could-be-anywhere-in-the-US, chain-shopping experience.
Our City Council majority could reflect our community. It could be concerned about the local businesses that create our downtown. Recent development decisions expose a pro-business attitude of simply going for the biggest businesses that will come, without a thought to how destructive Wall Street can be to Main Street. Compatibility and scale have lost out to a lust for sales tax dollars. We should be adding to our retail sector, not burying it and building on its grave. Friedman could be more than a one-trick-pony, if, instead of dropping the same formulaic mall on Davis, he chose to DEVELOP a market not DESTROY one. He could look beyond his mall's parking lot and create something in scale with, and a complement to this community. It can be done.
- John P. Hamilton
- The Next Chapter
- 225 G St. Davis CA
[ Homepage ]