Per the City of Morgantown’s Twitter Feed, it was announced today that Panera Bread has plans to expand into the city’s downtown. Meanwhile, some downtown institutions are also changing their look.* This is the sort of thing that gets people excited. “Progress!” they’ll shout, because having solid businesses downtown, whether new or evolving, is the sort of thing that that keeps the scene lively.
Yet, I find myself not entirely thrilled with these developments, not because I don’t recognize that change is necessary, but because these changes effectively serve to homogenize our community in a way that makes it seem very similar to everywhere else. If I wanted a Morgantown that was like anywhere else, I’d be anywhere else. But I’m not. I’m here in my hometown.
There’s something off-putting about there being a Panera downtown, if only because it will be exactly like the Panera in Evansdale (a place it fits in). Downtown’s for the misfits and the weirdos, the odd bakery shop in the old Dairy Queen building, the Blue Moose, and Jay’s Daily Grind. Each of those will be threatened by the monolith that is Panera and if I remember how these things generally go, those establishments will almost certainly suffer from the fight.
“Good!” the promoters of these things will say. “They should suffer! If they can’t keep up, they shouldn’t stay open!”
There’s no denying that mindset either. There are people that want sanitized everything, and let’s face it, downtown is sanitized. But we already have vast tracts of Monongalia County dedicated to the promotion of homogenized, chain culture. We’ve got all of Evansdale. We’ve got the mall. We’ve got the University Town Center. We’ve got the Suncrest Towne Centre. We’ve got the Glenmark Center. Do we really, absolutely, necessarily have to import that anodyne to our downtown? And must we have to do so enthusiastically?
(*Thanks to @ddryan)