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Philadelphia Weighs “Predatory Superstore” Law

| Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Apr 7, 2005 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

Three Philadelphia City Councilors—David Cohen, Richard Mariano and Frank DiCicco—have introduced an ordinance that would bar “predatory superstores” from locating within the city.

The ordinance defines predatory superstores as any store over 180,000 square feet or any store over 90,000 square feet that devotes more than 10 percent of its floor space to nontaxable grocery items. The latter would affect stores operated by Kmart, Target, Wal-Mart, and other retailers that combine general merchandise with a full supermarket under one roof.

In order to grant a variance allowing a larger store, the proposed ordinance stipulates that zoning officials must examine the store’s impact on existing businesses, jobs, wages, and tax revenue, and must conclude “that the applicant has demonstrated, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proposed Predatory Superstore will not substantially lower the rate of employment, the level of wages and/or health care benefits, the amount of revenue generated by wage and property taxes or otherwise endanger the economic health and vitality of the surrounding community.”

The ordinance cites several reasons for regulating large-format retailers. It notes that they “have a demonstrable and identifiable negative and anti-competitive impact on many business enterprises and establishments operating or attempting to operate in the same market area.”

It says that superstores are regional in nature, drawing customers from a wide area and destroying the urban fabric of nearby neighborhood stores, and that they “are neither pedestrian nor mass transit oriented and instead encourage the unnecessary use of individual personal vehicles and attendant parking, pollution issues along with waste of scarce natural resources”

Unfortunately the ordinance’s limits are relatively mild given the strength of its explanatory introduction. Stores larger than 90,000 square feet that do not sell groceries, such as a Home Depot or Lowe’s, will have much the same impact on the city’s economy and neighborhoods. The limit of 180,000 square feet for these non-grocery retailers is quite large: it’s equivalent to more than three football fields. (See How Big is Too Big?)

However, there will be opportunities for citizen input and revisions to the measure in the coming weeks.

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About Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and directs its Community-Scaled Economy Initiative, which produces research and analysis, and partners with a range of allies to design and implement policies that curb economic consolidation and strengthen community-rooted enterprise.  She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and also produces a popular monthly newsletter, the Hometown Advantage Bulletin.  Connect with her on twitter and catch her TEDx Talk: Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy. More

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