Bloomington puts new rules on chain businesses

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City officials in Bloomington are creating new rules for chain businesses looking to open in the downtown area.

The City Council voted Wednesday night to require what it calls "standardized businesses" to obtain a special zoning permit that specifies details of the building's look and design.

Supporters say the step is intended to protect the appearance of the downtown area, which has numerous local restaurants, shops and bar whose businesses are driven by their proximity to the Indiana University campus.

The rules will apply to a nine-block area around the courthouse square and a 12-block zone that includes Kirkwood Avenue just west of the IU campus, The Herald-Times reported.

Mayor Mark Kruzan pushed as far back as 2009 to ban new chain stores and restaurants in order to protect the downtown's character, but opposition grew quickly and those proposals never won approval.

The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce supported the new ordinance after fighting earlier versions this spring that could've blocked new chain businesses if officials believed there was an over concentration of them.

"We're excited about the spirit behind this," said Jeb Conrad, the chamber's CEO and president.

The ordinance defines a standardized business as having uniform services, merchandise, menus, logos, signs or exterior design. Design criteria would include whether the building complements the surrounding area with its architecture, scale and interior decor, and that any building of historical significance be preserved as much as possible.

Councilman Chris Sturbaum said changes made Wednesday were meant to exempt businesses not visible from the street from the ordinance, such as those on the second level of a building or shops without windows because they're located inside a building.

"I think this is the right direction," Sturbaum said. "We're all in this together. We all want this community to thrive."


  • Let the market decide
    It's a shame when people with no skin in the game decide what everybody else should be allowed to do or where they eat. Free Enterprize built this country and customers should be free to vote with their patronage to any business they choose, not a business that "elites" choose for them.
  • Let's Think Together
    Didn't the people of Bloomington made their voices heard when they elected the Mayor (in each election since 2004) and City Council? I have a hard time understanding how enforcing design and code standards robs the public of its voice.
  • Nope. Not the right way.
    I love locally owned independent restaurants but this elitist communist garbage is not the way. If the public prefers the local establishments then they will thrive and the national chains will find greener pastures. But you have to let the people have their voice - and if they prefer the God-awful chains then let them be. Once we give up on a free America with unfettered personal choice then all is lost.
  • Isolationists
    So does that mean if you sell Bud, that could be considered "chain" forcing bars to only sell local crafts? At the next recession will local eateries stay open? Liberal economics 101 don't work.
  • Legal standing
    You can't zone out a specific type of business, nor can you write a law that is unique to one set of businesses within a wider class of operation. Bloomington can create a design review district for all structures that have characteristics of an urban setting, which often isn't conducive to national chain businesses with one-size-fits-all buildings.
  • Let Me Know How That Works Out For You
    Good luck getting that to survive a legal challenge. The People's Republic of Bloomington always has trouble with that pesky rule of law thing.
  • Subjectivity
    What constitutes a "chain?" In my mind, Scott's and Kilroy's have become chains--they're equally tacky!
  • Good...
    The general lack of national chain businesses (aside from Star Bucks, Chipotle and Jimmy John's) is part of what makes Bloomington such a great and unique town. I'm glad to see them take further steps to ensure its diversity. The doughnut counties can keep their vinyl villages and sprawl...

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