franchises as cancer?

I know that some people in my audience are quite fond of franchises. I’m not. I think they sap the life and personality out of communities. With that said, however, I still feel bad for their owners when things go poorly. So, I’m not mentioning this because I take any pleasure in it, but because I think that it might provide an opportunity to discuss the place for chain stores and franchises in historic downtowns.

It looks as though the Quizno’s franchise in Depot Town is relocating.

I’m not sure where it’s headed to, or what the circumstances were behind the decision, but my guess is that it wouldn’t be happening if they had been successful where they were.

I’ll readily admit that there are several things that make franchises compelling. It’s hard to make a go of it in business these days, and I can see why going with a national chain might be seductive. They provide you with proven systems and advertising support, and they eliminate the need to make a lot of very difficult business decisions. (They also typically charge quite a bit for the food that they’re selling you and their services, but that’s a different matter.) For a new entrepreneur, without much experience, I can see how it might look like a good deal. I would argue that it’s not, however, good for the long-term health of a downtown. While the franchisees might make decent money, if things go well, the local economic impact pretty much ends there. Sure, there are a few low-wage, unskilled jobs created, but that’s about it. A significant portion of the profits go out of state, to the national headquarters of the licensing entity. More than that, however, the existence of chains rob an area of its individual identity, sometimes several hundred years in the making. And, in the process, I would argue, they make their areas less viable in the long-run.

Look at it this way — If all you see when you drive through Ypsilanti, or any other town, are the same stores that you have in your own town, why would you stop and spend your money?

So, yes, I feel sorry for the owner of this Quizno’s that things didn’t work, but, ultimately, I think it might be a good thing for Depot Town (which is otherwise franchise-free). Feel free to leave nasty comments, but that’s how I feel. (I feel as though franchises and chain stores have their place, but that that place is outside of town, in a strip mall.)

And, I realize there are exceptions. If a significant percentage of storefronts are empty in your town, clearly you have to do what you can to create foot traffic and bring money into the area. I can appreciate that. Fortunately, however, that wasn’t the situation here. Depot Town is, by most accounts, doing well (at least when it comes to the food service industry).

I don’t know the answer going forward. I’ve read of one town, I believe outside of Portland, that has passed legislation keeping franchises out. I don’t know that that’s necessary, but I think that, whenever possible, I’ll try to keep my money in the community by shopping in locally owned and operated stores. At the very least, I figure, we should reward those indivivuals who have decided to go the more difficult route and try to be successful on their own. And, maybe that in itself is enough to keep franchises out.

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19 Comments

  1. trusty getto
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    It’s not the franchising that bugs me, it’s the lack of quality that seems result after the franchising. Though there are notable exceptions, food tends to take a hit when it ends up franchised.

    I’ve got to admit that I’m not sure its the franchise, though, with Quizno’s. Their subs just aren’t all that great.

  2. egpenet
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Recently, I did some wet and dry plaster repairs in a duplex near Wayne State, in the historic Woodbridge neighborhood. Yes, I was a bit careless about the dust hazards and have beeeeen coughing for several weeks … which is why I think all those little Italian plasterers can no longer be found to do this work … they’re all dead! Anyway … I met the owner of the home across the street, who was having a granite countertop installed. I had been told he was in the food business. I complimented his choice of countertops, then asked about his restaurant. “I’m one of the Quizno founders,” he responded. Blah, blah, blah. We parted and continued our respective days.
    As a laid back New Urbanist, I am glad to see the Qizno’s leave Depot Town. I much prefer local businesses have their day/night of success. Cafe Luwak, Cady’s (a bit pricey), Sidetrack/ Frenchie’s, and the new breweries suite me just fine. And the large and small, old and new retailers theree, even City Body … excellent!
    I hope Quizno’s doesn’t land elsewhere in the City limits.
    If only we can get the Downtown DDA to teach its members about regular hours, merchandising and marketing, and how to run a bakery without using transfats … and where’s our inviting downtown food market? drug store? etc. etc. etc.
    Ypsi Food Co-op is walkable for me and mine, but not for most of the City. I’m not worried about the bar scene or liquor licenses changing hands. What I want is a liveable, walkable, inclusive and fully integrated downtown for everybody …
    blah, blah, blah. Want to run for mayor, anyone?

  3. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    And, while we’re at it, I think that the Cheeky Monkey (right across the street from Quizno’s) should stop selling “Anette Funichello” dolls and start selling scary, locally-crafted ones instead.

    http://www.cheekymonkeybear.com/main.htm

  4. Dr Cherry
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    “What I want is a liveable, walkable, inclusive and fully integrated downtown for everybody”

    That sounds familair for some reason …

  5. schutzman
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I wish ypsi had more French restaurants.

    Or would that be considered a franchise?

    A Frenchise?

    Have I just casually coined a slang term which will be used by ypsilantians for generations to come?

  6. kez
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    i don’t like quizno’s for many reasons: one is that they put the tomato and mayo on the bun BEFORE it hits the toaster oven. when i ask them to put the mayo on AFTER it comes out, they snarl at me. i don’t like teenagers snarling at me before i eat. it makes me feel depressed, and after spending $7 for a turkey roll i get even more depressed… and no, using a $1 off coupon doesn’t help. i sit there and sulk while thinking past corporate employees masterbated into the lettuce bin on their last day…. i don’t eat out too often anymore…

  7. kez
    Posted May 26, 2006 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    watch the two-minute “quizno’s franchise video” here:

    http://www.quiznosfranchises.com/

    warning! it contains the following franchise cliches:

    “… building my own future.”
    “… controling my own destiny.”
    “… the sky’s the limit.”
    “… be part of the quizno’s family.”

    sorry, it did not mention how to “close your store for relocation”.

  8. EdB
    Posted May 27, 2006 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Um… when I’m traveling THROUGH an area I’ll take a franchise any day of the week. Why risk the rest of my traveling time traveling to a toilet to eliminate something that wouldn’t be sold if it wasn’t for protectionist policies enacted by locals to keep local businesses in business? Does it matter where I spend my money if I spend any of it in a town I’ve got no interest in? If I happen to travel through an area that doesn’t have anything I’m familiar and comfortable with I generally eat out of a grocery store. What’s the difference between buying prepared food from a known vendor and buying known brands from a grocery store? None perhaps? When I’m traveling TO an area it’s different. I then want to avoid the chains and check out the local bidnesses. It sucks to find the place I went is nothing but chains, but generally that only means I failed to find the locals. They’re often hidden (protected!) from the tourist crowd eh?

  9. mark
    Posted May 27, 2006 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    If you re-read my post, you’ll notice that said that there are places for franchises, like in strip malls along busy thoroughfares, and off of highway exit-ramps. There are times, as you say, when one would prefer a known entity, like a Big Mac (or, in my case, a disgusting piece of greasy fish from Long John Silvers). On long trips, when I haven

  10. mark
    Posted May 27, 2006 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Brett, am I giving you too much credit, or did you have in mind when you left that comment that half of Depot Town is owned by various off-shoots of the French family?

    Speaking of the Frenches, can someone email me a family tree, so that I can see how all the pieces fit together?

  11. schutzman
    Posted May 28, 2006 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It would appear that, in a rare act of humility, you’ve actually given me precisely the correct amount of credit.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted May 28, 2006 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I was really disappointed when Quiznos first moved in, and that was long before I owned Cafe Luwak. It just didn

  13. EdB
    Posted May 28, 2006 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    My bad! I read and posted as opposed to read and re-read and posted. Your typical downtown isn’t a much traveled path eh?

  14. egpenet
    Posted May 29, 2006 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Dear EdB: The two guys who just opened up LookInTheAttic on Michigan Avenue said they selected Ypsi downtown for their retail outlet (they mostly do wholesale on the net) precisely because of the huge volume of vehicle traffic … like 30,000 cars per week(?) … an unbeliveable amount of traffic! True? I don’t know. But, business is a numbers game.

  15. murph
    Posted June 1, 2006 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    According to the Washtenaw Area Traffic Study’s traffic counts database, Michigan Ave in 2005 saw about 24,300 vehicles/day east of Washington, and 27,700/day east of Huron. Peak hour counts of 1911 and 2156, respectively.

    Lots of cars, yes.

    As for “what do travelers eat?” Easy: they find somebody who looks local, and say, “Hey, where’s a good place to eat around here?” At which point, the local gets over his surprise quickly, tries not to act like a typically standoffish upper Midwesterner, and says, “Uh – I like Sidetracks; go thattaway and take a right on Cross.”

  16. mark
    Posted March 14, 2007 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I just had to come back and add this link in the Quizno’s thread. It seems as though a lot of them are failing, and quite a few people are suggesting it’s a scam.

    Here’s a clip:

    On Nov. 27, Bhupinder Baber walked into a Quiznos restaurant on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He spoke briefly with the manager before stepping into the restroom and shooting himself three times in the chest.

    Mr. Baber died that evening. In a note he left behind, Mr. Baber, who had owned two Quiznos franchises in Long Beach before he became embroiled in a legal dispute with the corporation, blamed the sandwich chain for destroying his life.

  17. egpenet
    Posted March 14, 2007 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s quizzical.

  18. mark
    Posted March 15, 2007 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I should probalby also update this thread and tell you what happened to our Deopt Town Quiznos. Shortly after closing, a local, independant bakery called The Queen of Hearts moved into the space. And, it’s yummy… If only this were a model that we could use again and again.

  19. Steve Pickard
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Have you EVER seen a long running Quizno’s that is the anchor of an area?

    Ever?

    I think most of these places are fronts or tax shelters.

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