In Boston, Mayor Menino is opposing a proposed Walmart, the Boston Globe reports:
A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said a Walmart would undercut local businesses, including the nearby Tropical Foods market, whose owners are planning to expand in the neighborhood.
City officials also said they want a mix of retail uses at the 8.5-acre site, such as restaurants, a day-care center, and smaller locally owned shops.
"Dudley Square is a unique and special place in the heart of the city, and we don't believe Walmart is in keeping with that uniqueness," said the mayor's spokeswoman, Dot Joyce.
This is why private ownership of property and the right of contract are so important — so that a property owner can lease property to whomever the owner wants to, regardless of whether the tenant is adequately "unique" for the taste of the politicians, and regardless of whether the tenant would compete with other businesses that are already established. Apparently Mayor Menino hasn't gotten word that competition is good for consumers because it reduces prices and improves service.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, New York, City Council member Brad Lander has launched a "shop local" campaign, with a Web site that says, "We encourage members of our community to patronize independent, locally owned, neighborhood shops, restaurants, cafes and stores. Local businesses provide goods and services with a personalized touch, keep jobs and money flowing in our community, contribute to support local causes, and help keep our neighborhoods vibrant and livable." Besides the thinly veiled xenophobia — which I find both repellant and hypocritical coming from a supposedly progressive council member like Mr. Lander — he seems kind of unclear on his definition of "local." His sites links to "local reviews" by "a local publication" — AOL's Patch. Is AOL all of a sudden "local" because it moved its headquarters to Manhattan from suburban Virginia? Why not let consumers choose to allocate their dollars as they wish, without "encouragement" from politicians. If the personalized touch or support for local causes is worth the extra price, consumers have a way of figuring that out without encouragement from politicians. Nor are local stores and chains mutually exclusive, either. I use the money I save by shopping for some things at chain stores to go out to local restaurants. Other people may use the money they save by eating at chain restaurants to shop for some things at local stores. The "local" stores on Mr. Lander's list are selling toys made in China, bicycles made in Italy, and cheese from France. If the non-local stores have lower prices, wider aisles, a bigger inventory, and cleaner bathrooms, maybe consumers will decide to shop there instead.
A cynical view would be that Mr. Menino and Mr. Lander favor the local shops because the local owners (or the local labor unions) are more likely to make campaign contributions to local politicians than are the often non-unionized chain stores or their owners. Another interpretation is that Mr. Menino and Mr. Lander are choosing to impose (or "encourage") their own tastes on their constituents, rather than leaving customers the choice to make their own decisions without interference or encouragement from politicians.