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Chain-store debate continues in Sonoma

  • A woman walks by the store on the corner at 605 Broadway in the town of Sonoma that housed the first Williams-Sonoma store. (File Photo / Press Democrat)

Opponents of proposed chain-store restrictions in Sonoma won a victory last week when city leaders backed away from enacting a temporary ban.

But with a narrow majority on the City Council clearly favoring the concept, it's probably only a matter of months before the city of 10,000 joins a select few nationwide that have such regulations.

Council Members Steve Barbose, Laurie Gallian and Ken Brown have signaled their support for reining in “formula businesses.”

Barbose chaired an ad hoc committee that has formulated recommendations that will be the basis of a draft ordinance that could come back to the council as early as next month, city staff members say.

The city Planning Commission, as well as the public, will have opportunities to weigh in on the proposals. If all goes as planned, an ordinance could be on the books by mid-summer.

Mayor Joanne Sanders conceded that Monday and said going forward she will “do anything to collaborate with my fellow council members who are in favor of this to tone it down a bit.”

Her main concern is with a proposal to ban chains that have more than 250 outlets from the city's historic Plaza, a move that Sanders, a small business owner, fears could result in the unintended consequence of keeping out businesses that locals actually favor.

That includes Williams-Sonoma, which has announced plans to return to the city where Chuck Williams founded his first store in 1956.

The proposed Broadway location falls outside of the plaza area and would not be subject to a ban under the current proposals.

But Sanders views the issue symbolically.

“As it stands, without any changes, there still would be a ban on Williams-Sonoma from coming to the plaza,” she said.

Even outside the plaza area, the $3 billion retail giant would be subject to new use permit restrictions under the proposed ordinance, which defines a formula business as one that includes 10 or more outlets, excluding hotels, offices, financial institutions and other types of service businesses.

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