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CU we are open sign hanging on the entrance door of a small cafe. Small business concept

What makes Downtown DeLand attractive to locals and tourists alike, who spend money that supercharges our local economy? It’s not the same cookie-cutter restaurants and stores that can be found in Anytown, USA.

We have a suggestion. This is an excellent time for the City of DeLand to do whatever is possible to harden Downtown DeLand against encroachment by chain stores — and especially chain restaurants.

The pandemic has wrought many challenging and negative effects for all of us. The silver lining is, the extreme conditions have also afforded us the opportunity to reset and make positive changes.

We’ve solidified what we prioritize and value, changed how we operate our businesses, and redesigned how we manage our resources.

The MainStreet DeLand Association, for example, has organized teams of people that, for nearly a year, have been working to create a better, more inclusive, more sustainable Downtown DeLand in preparation for the time when our beloved historic business district can reopen and function fully.

What keeps people coming to Downtown DeLand is not only the century-old buildings, although preserving these is essential.

What keeps them coming is the feast of local flavor represented by locally owned, one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants — the kinds of artisan businesses and eateries you cannot find anywhere else.

Downtown DeLand is currently home to nine or 10 national-chain outlets, depending on how you count them, with Jimmy Hula’s set to add another next year. Certainly, these businesses are patronized and appreciated. No one’s suggesting that we kick them out.

The problem is the potential for saturation. The problem is there’s nothing to prevent the next Downtown DeLand storefront vacancy or rare plot of vacant land from being filled by another nonlocal brand. Eventually, we could lose the charm that defines our historic district and makes it work as an economic driver that benefits the whole community.

We understand that this won’t be an easy law to write. How do we define a chain store? How do we legally justify zoning it out of the historic business district? What if a local business — à la Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., for example — becomes a mini-chain and opens additional locations?

But zoning laws are powerful, and they’re used for much less worthy purposes of community design and protection. We’re confident they can be used for good to protect the integrity of Downtown DeLand.

In fact, the challenges are all the more reason to get started right away.

Downtown DeLand is dependent on the kind of visitors who come here looking for something they can’t get somewhere else. We can’t afford to disappoint them.

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