Has island law left fast-food behind?
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:55 PM
"They stood beneath hand-lettered signs and - it being November - umbrellas. They protested the cutting of trees, and perhaps the irony that in a country founded on individualism, the arrival of generic hamburgers could be seen as progress.Their image graced the front page of the Review on Nov. 22, 1989, some two dozen islanders taking a stand against the groundbreaking of the McDonald's eatery on High School Road. The restaurant did in fact go up, and seems to enjoy loyal patronage to this day. Now we wonder - do the local zoning restrictions on formula fast-food restaurants that McDonald's inspired still have a following of their own?Over the years, we've watched the periodic dust-ups over the fast-food law - after inquiries from an unnamed chain that might have been Domino's in 1993, Starbucks two years ago, others we've forgotten. Each time, a few city council members decry the ordinance as a restriction on free trade, economic growth or consumer choice. A few debates follow, the law is tinkered with a bit - but barring a legal challenge, it manages to hang on. Now, in comes Papa Murphy, cookie-cutter pizza in hand and attorney in tow. The ordinance, they say, is doomed.Our own view on formula fast food? Well, we enjoy a good greasy, fatty, calorie-laden, cholesterol-dripping, artery-clogging pizza as much the next person. Same for cheeseburgers. And double up on those fries, please. So we don't have any beef with Papa Murphy's (and we should say here, it is rather difficult to think of an unbaked pizza as take out food), which we can't recall ever having patronized. And we won't criticize owner Mike Cooper for taking the easy route of buying a franchise with an existing pizza chain, rather than trying his hand at real entrepreneurship with Papa Mike's or some such start-up. It's his money, and he can invest it as he sees fit.But we do ask Cooper - and the thousands of islanders who weren't here a decade ago - to reflect a moment on just where the island's fast-food ordinance came from. It was a lonely stand against wasteful packaging and unhealthy food; against drive-thru car traffic, and the resource degradation inherent to the international beef trade; against crass, generic, strip-zone architecture; against the garish signs and lighting that define so much of the American landscape. It was a war on sameness and homogeneity, the things unique Bainbridge Island is supposed to oppose.And it was also a bit of good old fashioned protectionism. Local lunch dollars are finite. And islanders feared then - as many do today - that for every Wendy's that sets up shop on the island, we'll lose an Annie's. With each new Domino's, a Thats-A-Some disappears. More local cash is siphoned off to distant corporate coffers, and the island landscape, commercially and aesthetically, looks a little bit more like everywhere else.It'll happen one day, a Domino's restaurateur told us in 1993. I don't think they can keep us off the island forever. Papa Murphy's may prove he was right. We look back on that image from a decade ago, and those citizens at the corner of High School Road and Highway 305. We try to imagine now, in 2000, a group of islanders picketing the imminent arrival of a Burger King or a Jack-In-The-Box. It fairly strains the imagination.Perhaps we're being unnecessarily defeatist here, or just melancholy for a mythical, mystical Bainbridge of yore. Perhaps we are ourselves just contrarians or throwbacks. But we fear that our storied fast food ordinance - daring, defiant, unique, so Bainbridge - is a visionary idea for an island that no longer exists."