The Applebee’s of our civic eye

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Just before the election, a front page news story in the Tribune brought New Albanians the joyous news that after decades without a true Neighborhood Bar & Grill, the city finally had been selected to host an Applebee’s. It will be constructed adjacent to the Grant Line Road location of Wal-Mart, another cultural landmark in the history of the area.

As a prelude to the following, it will help casual readers to know that Mayor Garner’s administrative wunderkind is Tony Toran, an efficient and caring fellow who seems like a good all-around guy, albeit a functionary forced to quickly learn as much as possible about damage control if he is to succeed in the gaffe-ridden Garner administration.

At the October meeting of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association, Toran recited a list of the administration’s achievements, and included among them the arrival of the Applebee’s.

Ever sensitive to the fawning largesse that seems to be forthcoming when anyone outside of town “creates jobs,” i.e., council members and public officials rush to offer first-borns and wads of unmarked bills to predatory companies in a ritual similar to the peddling of indulgences in medieval Europe, I sent this note to Toran:

“We much enjoyed your comments to the neighborhood association last evening. Your sincerity is refreshing and engaging. While it is impossible for me to completely disengage myself from being identified as a local business owner, permit me to stress that I speak as a proud citizen of the city who genuinely believes — like you — that good things are on the horizon.

“Last night, I noticed that when speaking of the current administration’s record, you included the imminent arrival of an Applebee’s, as though to imply that this owes to governmental action in some manner. While the advent of a chain restaurant on our already impossibly overcrowded

stretch of Grant Line Road may well prompt dancing in the streets a full decade after such a phenomenon ceased to be of significance anywhere else in America, it also suggests several questions.

“Was this something that the mayor’s office actively courted in the fashion of the auto parts firm from Missouri? If so, was the Applebee’s franchise operator (is it Whit-Mart?) provided with inducements to build an outlet in New Albany? If so, will similar inducements be offered to locally owned and operated businesses to expand, especially when retail spaces for downtown New Albany are available?

“In my last note, I included a link to an article on chain restaurants and monoculture. Here it is again for the benefit of the cc’ed recipients of this note:

http://www.lewbryson.com/other_chains.htm

“(With respect to the forthcoming Scriber Place redevelopment project), understanding that a plan for this projected downtown retail flowering has yet to be offered, will it include a position on the part of city government with respect to the type of development downtown? Will major

corporations based far outside New Albany be awarded inducements to operate, or will city

government assist locally owned and operated businesses that reflect the true history and character of our community?”

In due time I received a pleasant response, in which Toran first indicated that he didn’t understand my questions, then answered the first one anyway: The city did not “court” Applebee’s, but approval would go through the mayoral apparatus as it always does. The remainder he offered to discuss by phone.

When and if I get around to the phone call, I’ll discuss the results here.

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