Our View: Balancing businesses

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Steamboat's independently owned businesses form the core of the community, and they are about to take on new competitors.

The recent rise of new and expanded shopping centers ensures that more national brand storefronts will arrive here. Among the projects are the planned build-out of Central Park Plaza, the remodel and expansion of Sundance Plaza and the pending development of Wildhorse Marketplace.

Already, Starbucks is set to open its second Steamboat location in the remodeled Sundance Plaza. There are broad hints that both regional and national chain restaurants are negotiating leases here.

Independent retailers and restaurateurs who live here, who send their children to school here, who support our nonprofit organizations, who work with organizations dedicated to the well-being of our youth are vital to our community. Their unique approaches to merchandising and menus are what stand between Steamboat and Anyplace, U.S.A., where familiar chain stores dominate broad suburban boulevards.

Sundance Plaza owners Jim and Susan Larson believe a mix of national brands and locally owned independent retailers can coexist. Larson said the business representatives he is talking to run the gamut from self-financed independents, to franchises, to family-owned regional chains and more.

While the Larsons are in negotiations with chain restaurateurs, they are actively seeking investors to help put local entrepreneurs on their feet and provide them with the kind of business structure they need to succeed. The arrival of national chains could reinvigorate the retail scene, Larson believes.

Are there apt to be casualties? Perhaps. But churn is a fact of life in the ultracompetitive world of small businesses.

The best we can hope for is that new competition will elevate Steamboat's overall economy and create new opportunities for Steamboat's business people, without unfairly undercutting those businesses that make Steamboat special.

The Planning Commission's unanimous vote Aug. 14 endorsing Whitney Ward's preliminary plan for Wildhorse Marketplace is emblematic of how the community can shape its retail future. In its first iteration, Ward's plan called for a strip mall with a big box retailer as an anchor on Mount Werner Road. He was rejected.

The project that came before the Planning Commission last week still called for more than 80,000 square feet of new development. However, it was greatly changed in terms of scale and architecture to better fit the entrance to the city and the ski area.

Ward is to be applauded for his willingness to adapt, and the Planning Commission is to be applauded for insisting that any new retailer -- national chain or not -- conform to the community's standards, not vice versa. That, ultimately, is how we prevent Steamboat Springs from becoming Anytown, U.S.A.

Inevitably, we all will spend money with national chains, here and elsewhere. But we also can use our shopping dollars to value the diversity and character afforded us by locally owned businesses.

Steamboat's commercial landscape is on the verge of significant change, but that change doesn't have to detract from the fiercely independent community we were all drawn to in the first place.

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