Why Blocking Chick-Fil-A Is Fine
Yesterday, James Peron wrote a thoughtful piece on the Huffington Post about shutting down Chick-Fil-A the right way. His basic argument is that the appropriate way to hit Chik-Fil-A is through boycotts, and that when people like Mayor Menino of Boston say they will try to block Chick-Fil-A’s expansion efforts, it smacks of First Amendment violations, threatens our freedom, and hurts everyone. His argument is solid, and you should really go read it. I’ll wait, and we can talk some more in the next paragraph, once you get back.
Ok, so now we’re all caught up, right? You’re probably feeling a little bad about having smiled when you read Menino’s letter now, since it tramples the Constitution and threatens the very foundation of our free society. But don’t worry, because I have some good news for you — it doesn’t.
What Peron’s piece (and everyone who is making a similar argument) seems to miss is that business deals are complicated things. It’s not like buying a house, where someone has a building to sell, you make an offer, you agree on a price, and suddenly there’s anti-gay chicken sandwiches being sold from the kitchen where your mom measured your growth on the door frame.
Opening a new business (or expanding an existing business) is a complicated negotiation, and it often requires buy-in from the larger community. And that buy-in is entirely optional. It’s up to a community to decide whether or not they want to help a business expand.
I’ll give you an example. I live in a moderately-sized suburb in southeastern Massachusetts, and we have a couple of large industrial parks here in town. On the whole, these office parks are a boon for the community. They pay taxes. They provide jobs. Pretty good jobs, even. They participate in the community.
A couple of years ago, one of those companies, a medical product supplier, wanted to expand. Expanding here in Massachusetts may not have been the most efficient way for them to expand. I’m sure that it’s cheaper to run a business in a state where the cost of living is lower, where there are fewer regulations, or where the taxes are lower. But they’re already here, so expanding in Massachusetts was an attractive idea, if they could make it work.
So this company came to the town and made some requests. The biggest thing they wanted was a pretty long term tax break. They made presentations, they talked to our selectmen (a town council, if that’s an unfamiliar term to people outside Massachusetts). Eventually, they hammered out a deal and brought it to the town meeting, presented it, and the people who live here in town voted on it.
If the business didn’t have a good reputation here in town, that negotiation could have gone sour at any number of points. The selectmen might have decided to oppose a deal, and that would have been the end of it. If they had, that would be ok. It wouldn’t be stifling free speech, it would be not going out of your way to help a business. Which, last I checked, isn’t in the Constitution. There’s no Amendment Nine and Three Quarters, where you have to run through the wall to help local businesses you don’t like.
And that’s the story with Mayor Menino and Chick-Fil-A. If Chick-Fil-A wants to lease a property, get the required permits, and open up their hateful little shop in Boston, there’s probably very little Tom Menino can do to stop it. But that’s not how business works. For Chick-Fil-A to open a new location in Boston, they’d probably need favors. They’d want permits expedited. They’d want an exemption from some sort of zoning regulation so that their big red ugly chicken sign could be lit up at all hours of the night. They’d want to be part of a job training initiative or something for hiring and training new workers.
At the end of the day, that’s all that Mayor Menino has done. He’s made it clear that he’s not going to do Chick-Fil-A any favors. He’s the mayor, not some sort of dictator. When he says that he’ll block Chick-Fil-A, he’s saying that he will not do any of the optional things he could do to help them open a Boston location.
And that’s just fine.