Tofino, B.C., is a tiny surfer town full of independent coffee shops, greasy spoons and eco-clothing boutiques, and its residents want to keep it that way. So, last week, the town council unanimously passed a motion asking city staff to come up with a way to keep large franchises— like Starbucks, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s—out. “We want to be reflective of the environment in which we live, which is wild, untamed and thus different,” says Maureen Fraser, owner of the Common Loaf, a local bakery and hippie hangout. “There’s no sense of escape if you find the golden arches.”
Bob Long, the town’s chief administrative officer, is working on a proposal for council. He says he’ll likely recommend zoning bylaws restricting signage and regulations requiring restaurants to have table service. Other small towns have fought off chain stores with similar regulations. After a large video chain drove local rental places out of business, Port Townsend, Wash., instituted a “formula store ordinance” that restricts the locations of franchises and requires stores to tailor their signs to the town’s Victorian aesthetic. It hasn’t had another franchise open in the city since. Qualicum Beach, B.C., about 160 km east of Tofino, has also managed to keep fast-food chains out with a bylaw that restricts the sale of prepackaged produce.
But Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says these towns are moving in the wrong direction. “It’s like shooting yourself in the foot,” he says. “A lot of people want the food and fun associated with [franchises].” Whyte thinks good planning is all that’s needed to keep independent stores in business. But those in Tofino don’t buy that. “You come here and get a unique cup of coffee,” says Long. “The more diversity we have, the better it will be.”