Mind the Gap? US resort bans nation's favourite retailers

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The Independent US

The quaint summer idyll of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, has joined a growing list of American communities taking steps to outlaw chain stores. The likes of Starbucks and Gap are being kindly invited to stay on the mainland.

Proposed by a bookshop owner, Wendy Hudson, an ordinance banning the chains was approved by a unanimous vote of 480 locals at a town meeting last week. It still has to be approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General, however.

"I'm extremely gratified," said Ms Hudson, who no longer need fear the arrival of the book mega-chain, Barnes and Noble. "People saw the balance and need to protect our character rather than this amendment just being another new regulation," she said. "As the country starts to look like everywhere else, this was about protecting our uniqueness."

Beth Simonsis, another year-rounder, concurred, celebrating saving Nantucket's town centre from becoming another carbon copy of Everywhereelse, USA. "Part of the reason people live here is that it's a tight-knit community and we can support our friends' businesses," she said.

The alarm bells began sounding last year when the clothing retailer Ralph Lauren paid $6.5m (£3.7m) for a building on Nan

tucket's Main Street. Up went the chain's signage and the boutique was declared open. Once inside, of course, its customers could just as easily have been in a Ralph Lauren in Memphis, Tennessee, or Minneapolis.

Happily for Ralph Lauren, the new measure will not be retroactive and the shop will be allowed to stay. But any other shop of its ilk will be turned away. This will mean any shop with 14 or more other branches elsewhere in the United States boasting homogenised decors or standardised menus, uniforms or trademarks. Red Lobster will be kept at bay. But so will Ben and Jerry's.

The stand being taken by the folks of Nantucket is only the latest skirmish in a widening war being waged by communities across America against so-called cloned retailers. Other towns to have passed similar regulations in recent years include Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, as well as Bristol, Rhode Island, and Ogunquit, Maine.

Each town pointed to their architectural heritage and dependency on tourism to justify the measures. Nantucket, reachable by plane or ferry, is an enclave of cobble streets, graceful mansions, empty beaches and holiday homes rented each summer for sky-high prices.

The island's residents might equally be accused of elitism and snobbery. Truth is, however, doing business is a special challenge on Nantucket, which sees its population dip to about 10,000 people compared to an August high of 50,000. Indeed, anyone thinking of renewing their swimwear wardrobe at Ralph Lauren this weekend will have to wait. The shop is still in winter hibernation. So too is the Nantucket branch of Lilly Pulitzer, a women's wear chain. "Closed from Christmas Stroll to Daffodil Weekend," reads a sign on the door of the Pulitzer outlet.

Other chains have made forays into the upscale climes of Nantucket only to close after only a few years of trying. That was the fate, for instance, of a branch of Crabtree & Evelyn, seller of soaps and potions and also of the clothing giant, Talbots.

The small-town manoeuvre to deny berths to the chains reflect the battles being fought by cities across the country against the mega discount retailers, most notably Wal-Mart. Voters in referendums in several cities have recently blocked the opening of Wal-Marts, citing fears that they will harm local businesses.