Does the World Need More McDonalds?

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- At some point when I lived in San Francisco (1999-2006), I remember hearing that Subway wanted one location in "The City" for every 10,000 residents. Or something like that. Basically, the fast food franchise sought to muck up the urban landscape with an overabundance of stores, particularly downtown.

While I'm not sure if Subway hit its number or not, it most likely came close or surpassed it. Formula chain stores, as the local government calls them, have effectively taken over Downtown San Francisco, as well as other neighborhoods. While some districts have succeeded in keeping them out, others haven't.

Here in Santa Monica, a handful of tortured souls fought against the addition of a Subway on the relative dead end of an otherwise fancy shopping street. These self-proclaimed civic-minded snobs (the snob part comes, lovingly, from me) lost, in part, because the franchise owner argued he's part of the community. His kids go to school in the city. He lives here. So, it's basically a local business.

Whatever.

In parts of San Francisco, Santa Monica and places cut from the same or similar cloth, residents would rather see a hole in the ground before a chain store or anything that rattles their self-righteous sentiment.

I used to be this flavor of snoot. But then I realized a few things:

  • I would rather see a million Subways (or McDonald's as it were) line a neighborhood than a million hipsters. Walk through San Francisco's Mission District for a couple of hours then you tell me if the smell of Big Macs is any more irritating than e-cigarette "smoking" cool kids riding fixed-gear bikes they have no business owning.
  • People often crave familiarity. Who the heck am I to rob them of this comfort? Or to argue that my attitude, even if stooped in education, should reign supreme?
  • Since when do local businesses deserve carte blanche? They don't. People vote with their minds, hearts and wallets. Don't like it? Go live elsewhere. Local business thrives when local business executes and local communities provide unconscious support through their day-to-day, seemingly mundane shopping habits.

I have heard every argument in the book for why chain stores are evil. I used to smugly spew them. They all, after one cycle in the intellectual wash, stink.

Many of these takes come alongside a tendency to be environmentally minded and against the notion of "over-consumption." Giving San Francisco a break, I'll pick on another equally as awesome place to visit (and most likely live) -- Portland.

I was there a few months back. The residents are among the most ardent in terms of looking down at the rest of what they, often openly, consider a nation of over-consuming idiots.

But it should come as no surprise that Portland consistently ranks in the top 10 for most restaurants per capita. It's almost always number one for most vegan restaurants per capita.

Stroll that city for a bit. If you can see between the hipsters, you'll notice more restaurants -- which equals more waste and "over-consumption" (whatever that means) -- than any city, relative to size, could possibly require. Even Manhattan. It's ironic that a place that prides itself on its environmentalist ethic supports a consumer-centric infrastructure that rivals what we see in great world cities.