Chain store conundrum

Formula business debate ties up Planning Commission


— An ordinance that could keep chain stores out of downtown Steamboat Springs is raising more questions than answers.

The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Thursday night tabled discussion of a proposed formula business ordinance, which would increase the city's approval regulations for brand-name retailers and restaurants - such as Gap and Starbucks - attempting to open on Lincoln Avenue, Yampa Street and Oak Street.

Although Commissioner Dick Curtis made the tabling motion because only four commissioners were present at the Centennial Hall meeting, which was attended by just three members of the public, Curtis also said more time is needed to consider numerous questions about possible impacts of the ordinance.

He and Commissioner Steve Lewis, for example, said increased regulations for formula businesses should apply to other parts of Steamboat, such as the base of Steamboat Ski Area and commercial districts outside of downtown.

"The classic problem with formula stores is that they suck the life out of the downtown core. They are a very strong competitor," Lewis said, citing concerns that allowing more formula businesses outside of downtown would only pull shoppers away from Lincoln Avenue.

The ordinance, prepared by city planning staff, defines a formula business as "a type of retail sales activity or retail sales establishment, including restaurant which, along with 10 or more other retail sales establishments, maintains two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized façade, a standardized decor and color scheme, a uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or service mark."

Steamboat's ordinance would require formula businesses to meet the standards of a conditional use review, a more stringent approval process than is normally required.

Commissioner Kathi Meyer said many Steamboat businesses - such as Christy Sports and Sportstalker, which are both owned by the Christy Sports chain - are part of regional companies that, with just a slight expansion, may not be able to open a new store downtown under the formula ordinance.

"This could potentially catch a lot of companies who are already here and might want to move downtown. I'm very concerned about the broad nature of this," Meyer said.

Commissioner Cari Herma-

cinski said other efforts, such as improving the exterior appearance of some downtown businesses and preserving a diversity of stores and products, would do more for downtown than restricting brand names.

"I don't think this ordinance is going to protect us from what we fear," she said.

The Planning Commission will next address the formula business ordinance Aug. 23.

- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail


bigdog 9 years, 8 months ago

The idiots of Steamboat put these clowns in charge, and now they are reaping what they sowed. Why do businesses become "formula", because they work. It is also called free market.


boatski 9 years, 8 months ago

Who do they think is going to fill the almost 80,000 sq ft of retail space downtown at $30-$40 a sq ft?


ThreeJobs 9 years, 8 months ago

Next the council will want to mandate "affordable retail space"--say 15% of each project-- to insure diversity and reward the less prosperous businesses for their lack of competitiveness.

Maybe the solution is to send these left wing nut jobs out to Milner to "preserve the local flavor" and let them try for their version of utopia.

Here's a flash folks: People looking for more than a "chain store" experience will patronize a local business that offers friendly service and good value. Protecting businesses that will not compete in the market only works in Comunist countries.

If the city council persists in this direction I suggest that they be required to dress in Soviet style fur hats--the red star would be a nice touch--and long black leather coats to police the downtown streets this winter. I'm sure the tourists would get a kick out of that!


Geary Baxter 9 years, 8 months ago

The "free market" has outgrown its name. It is now the "corporate market" It is more a Chinese retail outlet organization/consortium. Mom and Pop can't compete. They can't afford to lose millions a year like the big boys because their stock is in their store, not in Wall Street. Council maybe trying to preserve some of what is being destroyed in this country. However, in the end the money will win and a valiant effort will go unnoticed. And thanks to all of the very intelligent contributors to this article for their constructive thoughts.


kingsride 9 years, 8 months ago

Craig (CO) should be courting these big boxes like theres no tomorrow. They could have all the revenues generated by all the Routt County residents that would make the trip over there to shop.


Scott Wedel 9 years, 8 months ago

So the argument is not to allow certain companies open stores in downtown Steamboat because they do too good of a job meeting the needs of the public?

That is beyond communism, it is straightforward ANTI-capitalism. Do not let us purchase what we want. The reason we cannot purchase what we want is because purchasing what we want is too competitive for local store owners.


routty 9 years, 8 months ago

Whistler/Blackcomb, Copper Mountain, Winter Park/Mary Jane, Mount Tremblant, Blue Mountain, Stratton, Mammoth, Steamboat. . .is Intrawest a "formula store"?


housepoor 9 years, 8 months ago

Everyone in town would glady drive to haydencraig for a Home Depot or Target, we already drive to Silverthorne, Vail and Denver. I wonder if there is way to estimate the sale tax lost by forbidding these types of businesses. Everyone thought the Sports Authority was going to put Ski House out of business...............Maybe the County should rezone some land west of town designed specifically for BIG BOX stores......I bet the City would change their tune very quickly if they thought the County was going get that revenue....


trollunderthebridge 9 years, 8 months ago

Possibly you should look at the place they all aspire to - Boulder...They did exactly the same thing a number of years ago (no more than 10 outlets of chain stores, never mind if you were a local business with more than one restaurant) and managed to put a thriving mall out of business...After several years of major decline in sales taxes and businesses leaving the City for Broomfield, demolition of that mall, what do they have as the "gateway" to the new 29th Street Pedestrian Mall? Staples and Home Depot!

It has nothing to do with Big Box or Chain Store... from someone who has worked in Retail stores (yes, a franchise) and trained employees... it is all about the service...not how many stores you have...people will not shop in a store or eat in a restaurant if the service stinks.


Pilatus 9 years, 8 months ago

Maybe the big stores will have to buy you carbon credits so you can drive 175 miles to get to one? Of course you'll get discounted credits if you ride share with someone that has "Affordable Housing"...


rodcarew 9 years, 8 months ago

It is important to keep in mind that (for now) this only applies to downtown and that it doesn't absolutely prohibit chains, it just makes the review requirements more stringent (conditional use). However, it would get really interesting if one did apply for a conditional use to see which ones they'd let in, as it then turns into them essentially deciding what's a good chain and what's a bad one.

People go places on vacation, in large part, to see something they can't see at home. Part of this is the shopping experience. What's the appeal of shopping at a chain they can easily frequent at home? They want to see something unique to Steamboat and the West. Locals, for the most part, don't do the majority of their shopping downtown anyway and likely never will.

The goal is noble. How it gets implemented is where it gets sticky.


SangriaMama 9 years, 8 months ago

I agree with many of these comments. Once again the City Council is over-reaching, trying to "fix" something (this time it's the free-market economy) that ain't broke. If you don't have a few formula stores downtown you will have a lot of empty new retail space. Our local stores have competed for years based on excellent customer service and so they will have to continue competing to stay in business. What is lacking downtown is a variety of shopping sufficient to attract customers in the first place. I welcome the addition of new retail space especially if it allows me to shop in the City. We totally underestimate the value of dollars that stay in our local economy.

Let the market decide who wants to sell in this town and stop the Council "meddling". Already this year we have had a litany of questionable decisions (linkage / vacation rentals / numerous consultants).

Thank God we have an election soon!


sickofitall 9 years, 8 months ago

I think the "communism" comparison is laughable. I mean these big box stores are doing business with Communist China. Who is in better financial shape the capitalist or the communist? You can not use the capitalism cry to bring big box stores downtown when they are in fact Communist products.


Vince arroyo 9 years, 8 months ago

We drive to Denver to shop. Admitted it We all do. X X X amount of gas,X X X amounts of pollution,X X X amounts for our time. Lets all start being responsible for our selfs. And lead by example. We all can steer this valley for our needs AND the needs of others . We can all adjust to accommodate for the inconvenience's, traffic. more people etc. Voices your options. Its not about the haves and have not's. lets hear you voices. Both sides.


another_local 9 years, 8 months ago

Amazing, planning goes straight to protectionism as the justification for a formula ordinance. They miss the point alltogether. Protection of local business should not be the purpose of government.

A formula ordiance, could go a long way toward maintaining uniqueness which is an important component in attracting visitors and one which does not have to be applied the same way in all parts of town. This can be accomplished by limiting the concentration of formula business in any one area and requiring them to make the visual presentation they offer more unique to the market.


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