Town That Chased Away Starbucks Sees Its Identity Being Endangered Again


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Small shops line Katonah Avenue, the main commercial strip in the hamlet of Katonah in the Town of Bedford, N.Y. Town officials are considering a proposal that would limit the size of stores in Katonah’s business district.

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Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

KATONAH, N.Y — A hamlet that looks as though it would fit neatly into a model-train layout at Christmastime is battling once again to sustain its small-town character against the relentless march of the large chain stores.

Twenty years ago, Katonah, 45 miles north of New York City in Westchester County, ran Starbucks out of town. Now, many residents and merchants are fighting to block a large CVS Health location, concerned that the national pharmacy chain’s arrival would spell doom not only for the one independent local drugstore but also for shops that sell cosmetics, groceries and other items that CVS stocks.

CVS has had a small outpost here for months, but the company wants to close it and open one nearly twice the size — 6,928 square feet — in the same shopping center.

In an effort to halt the move, the Town Board of Bedford, which encompasses Katonah as well as the hamlets of Bedford and Bedford Hills, is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday at which it may vote on a zoning amendment that would reduce the scale of new stores in the three downtown areas to 4,000 square feet, from 7,500 square feet. The villages of Bronxville and Mamaroneck, also in Westchester, and Sag Harbor, on Long Island, have already adopted similar limits to maintain their small-scale character.

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Kate Gilligan on the porch of The Reading Room, a cafe in Katonah. She helped organize a petition drive against a 7,000-square-foot CVS pharmacy store being proposed for the hamlet.

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Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

Opponents have collected 1,400 petition signatures online and have carried picket signs along the main street, unusual for the low-key community.

Kate Galligan, an organizer of the petition drive, said that while she did “not want to be Mayberry about it,” she cherished the independently owned, quirky stores that give Katonah its distinct personality.

Sitting on the porch at The Reading Room, a cafe housed in a former library, she cited Westport, Conn.; East Hampton, N.Y.; and nearby Mount Kisco as municipalities that had been tarnished by an invasion of chain stores.

“It’s like the death of so many small towns,” said Ms. Galligan, 46, an SAT tutor and mother of four who moved here from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, 12 years ago in search of a place that was not classically suburban. “One comes in and then another and the town become generic. You go to East Hampton now and you might as well be in a high-end mall.”

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The existing CVS store in Katonah. The new store being proposed by the company would be twice as big.

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Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

Bedford’s reaction may have come too late to derail CVS’s plans. The company applied for a building permit on June 18, and Joel H. Sachs, a lawyer for the town, said the permit might be issued if a vote on the zoning proposal were postponed beyond Tuesday. The town typically takes about 30 days to rule on a such permits.

Katonah prides itself on shops that have been open since before cars were common. Kelloggs & Lawrence has been selling hardware since 1887 and has a barrel filled with peanuts still in the shell near the front door. Weinstein’s Pharmacy has been around since 1881. Charles Department Store — a big name for a modest shop that offers clothing, household appliances and barbecue sets, among other things — has been here for over 90 years.

The hamlet does have branches of chain banks like Chase, name-brand gas stations, and, until recently, an A.&P., but few other stores that can be found elsewhere. It has an independent bookstore — Little Joe’s Coffee & Books — along with shops that sell toys, gifts, cosmetics, home furnishings, jewelry and pet-grooming services.

Not everyone fears the arrival of a larger CVS. Some residents appreciate the chain, which has two other locations within a few miles, because its stores are open late, and shoppers can slip in after coming home from work. They also appreciate the range of nonpharmaceutical offerings, which allows them to run errands in a single stop.

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Diana and Bart Tyler, owners of Kelloggs & Lawrence hardware store in Katonah. “It’s up to us make our stores a place where people want to shop,” Mr. Tyler said.

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Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

Bart Tyler, who owns Kelloggs & Lawrence with his wife, Diana, suggested the hamlet should be open to competition. The personal, friendly service his store provides, he said, would keep customers from going to places like Home Depot.

“Each of us has to justify ourselves,” he said. “It’s up to us make our stores a place where people want to shop.”

Katonah’s fighting spirit dates to its creation in 1897, when the village of Whitlock Station was forced to move a mile south to make way for New York City’s reservoirs. Renaming their new location Katonah, residents shifted their houses in sections or intact, often by horse and wagon. They also took control of the new community’s character. They banned a host of commercial uses like slaughterhouses and gunpowder factories, and designated Katonah Avenue as the downtown business district, with spots for a bakery, a general store and the like.

Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS, said the zoning proposal “unfairly targets our business.” David Firestein, who owns the shopping strip where the new CVS would go, said in an interview that the hamlet already had large stores and chains. He cited the now-closed A.&P., a Mrs. Green’s Natural Market and an outlet of Edward Jones Investments, which has 12,000 locations in the United States and Canada.

“People have their own definitions of chains,” he said.

Thom Hagen, a lawyer for IBM who is a co-president of the Katonah Village Improvement Society, which proposed the zoning change, said he patronized large stores but did not want them in Katonah.

“I work for IBM, so I have no problem with big companies,” Mr. Hagen said. “But the wonderful thing about Katonah is the small businesses where the kid down the street works for them and when you come in the person knows your name.”



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