Dunkin Donuts = Walmart of the coffee world?

Maine has long struggled with striking a balance between business growth and character preservation. Many towns has zoning laws dictating what new buildings may look like. There have been many attempts to prevent chains from operating in certain areas as well. Camden has recently struggled with the addition of a Dunkin Donuts. Some of the NIMBY crowd, who preferred character over business, resisted but it didn’t last. Two permits have been granted paving the way for the Dunkin Donuts franchise to move in.

Gerald from Turn Maine Blue weighs in with his two cents.

from Turn Maine Blue:

So it may come as some surprise to read that those folks in Camden that oppose the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts really need to stop and think if this is going to kill your town.

Because it’s not.

First, a Dunkin’ Donuts is NOT going to suck business away from the other two (or more) existing coffee houses. The folks that will frequent DD will likely not have stopped at the local shops anyway.

The Dunkin’ Donuts is not going to be located out of town, but right downtown. Other than signage, it will have to comply with zoning regulations – and perhaps this might be a good time to think about revising your sign ordinance.

Believe it or not, this store will likely get people to stop in Camden’s downtown, and while they are there, spend money in other, locally owned, shops. It wasn’t too long ago that the Subway that is now out by the IGA/Hanaford’s was just around the corner from this location.

Filling storefronts should be a priority, especially in this economy. Think of the broken window principal in criminology. If people see a building with broken windows they are more likely to continue vandalizing the building than if those windows were replaced. Along the same line, people be more apt to litter on a street that is already dirty.

With that in mind, think about the psychological impact of an empty storefront. People see the dusty windows and dark interior and think that the area is going downhill. Other businesses begin to worry about the hit their traffic is going to take because of the empty store. Maybe their store will go next. Stores start moving to higher traffic areas and the slide begins. Keeping buildings occupied is paramount.

While I believe competition is part of good business, small coffee shops have nothing to fear from Dunkin Donuts.

There are 7 D&Ds in Portland alone, not to mention the dozen or so more in the surrounding towns. Sure, traffic is backed up onto St. John St. every morning. Dunkin Donuts deserves it. They do what they do well: coffee, donuts and bagels cheap and quick. That doesn’t detract anything from the small coffee shops that dot Portland. I have been to my favorite shop, Arabica, at various times of the day. The place is never empty. People choose a small shop like Arabica, or gasp Starbucks, because they are expecting a certain quality of product and atmosphere. That’s not why you go to Dunkin Donuts

I go to Arabica because they have the best coffee at the best prices. The fact that they are local doesn’t really figure into for me. Even though I’m glad to give a local company my money, locals work at Dunkin and Starbucks too.

In this economy I think we need to put our prejudices aside. Encouraging business growth will not turn our charming towns into corporate sponsored cut outs. Allowing strong businesses to get a foothold will drive traffic to others as well. We may loose some small establishments, but those that survive this will come out strong as ever.