More chain restaurants not my cup of tea

I’m trying to generate some excitement for the new development near the south freeway interchange. New construction is an encouraging sign after the downturn of the recession, and jobs are a plus, too.

But it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about another fast-food outlet or two — or three.

Does Medford really need four new chain restaurants? Or, more accurately, two new chain restaurants — Cracker Barrel and Five Guys Burgers — and two chain restaurants we already have at the other end of town — Chipotle and Mod Pizza.

I know, chain eateries are known quantities for developers, who want some assurance that a business that goes into a new project will still be there next year and the year after that. I also understand that, situated as it is right off Interstate 5, between U.S. Cellular Community Park and the new hotels across Garfield Avenue, the new Southside Center development is really aimed as much at visitors as at Medford residents.

But as a resident of southwest Medford, I’d rather see local restaurants in my neighborhood.

There was a time when traveling up and down I-5 meant the opportunity to try restaurants not available at home. Some were great, some not so great, but they were different. And it wasn’t just restaurants. Clothing stores, bookstores, hardware stores varied from town to town. Each community had a look and feel all its own.

Now, one freeway interchange looks pretty much like the last. “Oh, look — there’s a Chipotle. Just like home.”

The new development will be just the thing for travelers on their way from Portland to San Francisco looking for a good place to stop for the night: newer hotels, convenient food and easy freeway access. And that’s what they will see of Medford. Will it leave a lasting impression?

Yes, jobs are jobs, although more minimum-wage fast-food opportunities are not what this area needs most. Construction brings better jobs, as long as the economy stays healthy.

But I’ll still seek out locally owned and operated restaurants, preferring to spend my dining-out budget so as much of it as possible stays here.

Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at gnelson@rosebudmedia.com.

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