Expressions: Dunkin' Donuts in Cold Spring
Out the window of the Brooklyn apartment we rented was a 200-year-old locust tree. It was beautiful. But then again, every so often a junkie would very noticeably score drugs right under it.
When my husband and I learned I was pregnant, we decided to relocate. Neither of us wanted suburbia, but was there such a thing as a small town within commuting distance of the city? In an effort to find one, we drafted a list of must-haves. It included:
* Basic amenities, such as a food store and post office within walking distance.
* Easy stroll to the Metro North station.
* No International House of Pancakes for at least five miles.
We had nothing against IHOP specifically, but it made a serviceable mascot for the kind of droning, national chain that adds little to a community except high fructose corn syrup and conformity.
We rented a car and spent one weekend stopping at every train station along the Hudson and New Haven Lines (we also wanted the town to be on water -- I know, tough customers). If we couldn't walk into town from the station, we vetoed it and carried on to the next stop.
At Cold Spring, we found exactly the village we weren't sure still existed in the 21st century. A small community on the river where you'd have very little need for a car, but easy access to the city. About two years ago, we bought our first home together and moved in time to be settled there before I gave birth.
Here's where it would be natural for disillusionment to enter the story. But it hasn't. Our neighbors are soulful and smart. They're retired firemen who rescue dogs, lawyers with a dark sense of humor, film producers who hike devotedly, architectural designers with polite teenagers, and gardeners who make planters out of old shoes.
We know our local shop owners. For almost three seasons a year, our vegetables come from the farm up the road. Not only is there no IHOP in town, there's no Starbucks-esque, Applebee's-ish, Abercrobie-y anything. The closest we have to a big chains are some bank branches and Foodtown, a regional cooperative with 68 stores total.
Cold Spring Village, as it stands now, is not replicable. I'm not saying it's perfect. We have at least four ice cream shops when we could really use a cobbler and a good butcher. But its textures are its own. It feels like a real place, not the homogenized, Epcot version of Main Street America that's so prevalent in suburbs across the country.
Sadly, our first giant chain is knocking loudly. We might be about to get a Dunkin' Donuts. If it comes, it'll be on Route 9D, near the corner of Main, in what is now an auto repair shop run by a well-liked local fellow.
On the one hand, I get it. There are reasons to bring in a national chain. Chains pay the rent every month. They guarantee customers. For landlords, there's something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with reliable tenants.
But in addition to the traffic and general kerfuffle a drive-through Dunkin' Donuts would bring -- something our planning board has the task of addressing -- it would also erode the town's character and set a precedent for more and more of these super-chains to enter. That would be sad in the way that watching a uniquely beautiful, otherwise smart woman get too much plastic surgery is sad.
Late this spring, a design for the new Dunkin' Donuts franchise came before our local Historic District Review Board, which has to approve plans on aesthetic grounds before they can move forward. To the board's credit, they declined it, seeing its stucco finish and brick veneer as too suburban-looking.
The architect has recently submitted a design that keeps the building looking more like the auto age structure it is.
But even if the franchise were covered with siding made from reclaimed, 19th century wood, the question of whether to let Dunkin' Donuts move in isn't really about how it will look next to Main Street. And it's not even about what it stands for. It's about the tangible effect it will have on local business owners and the culture of our community.
Not only will it take business away from mom-and-pop shops, but if Dunkin' Donuts comes here, it will be possible to pull off the road and pick up a coffee from an establishment that feels like Anywhere, USA. It's that sense of dislocation -- lack of location, even -- that positively doesn't belong in such a rare village.
Reader Lauren Daisley is a contributing writer for the online magazine, the Morning News. Her work has appeared on CBS New Sunday Morning and Salon, among others.