OPINION: Big chains are bad for small towns

Chipotle may be exciting, but the arrival of big fast food chains hurts the small businesses, establishments of smaller towns



Big chains coming to town disrupts the flow and businesses of many local stores, especially restaurants, which hurts local business owners.

MEGHAN HENRY, Evergreen managing editor

In Pullman, we are all about tradition. From Cougar Football Saturdays at The Coug, to Cougar Gold Cheese from the WSU Creamery — our local spots all hold a place in our memories as a piece of the college experience at WSU.

When new chain restaurants come to town, it causes a natural change in business. With Chipotle’s pending arrival, many students are looking forward to new choices on the Pullman menu. However, I don’t believe that desire for the familiarity of restaurants like Chipotle will distract from the long-held popularity of local favorites.

Small businesses like Zoe Coffee & Kitchen and Cougar Country are two such influential businesses in our town. Those are the restaurants we take our parents to when they drop us off in the fall. Those are the restaurants where we meet up with friends to enjoy each other’s company and the welcoming atmosphere.

“When my parents come out for Parents Weekend, you don’t take them to Qdoba. You want to show them the cool local places,” Aidan Murray, junior sport management major, said.

Even students who are home for the semester are reminiscing over their favorite food spots.

“I remember freshman year — my roommate and I and our dormmates from down the hall would walk to Zoe every Tuesday because it was just fun for us to go and have something to do,” Madelyn Butcher, junior hospitality business management major, said.

For these reasons, it’s obvious that chain restaurants can’t manage that same hometown appeal.

“It says something when those places are where people want to go when they want to celebrate something good,” Butcher said. “People want to go somewhere that is special and unique, and where they know they’ll have a good time.”

Mike Wagoner, owner of both Zoe Coffee & Kitchen and Cougar Country, started his dream of running a coffee shop when his family lived on College Hill. He and his wife rented space in their home to students, who would drop into the family’s kitchen every morning for coffee.

“I spent half my mornings making lattes for the students,” Wagoner said, “and then someone said, ‘You should get paid for this. Why don’t you open up something, and do what you really want to do?’”

So he did. Zoe Coffee & Kitchen incorporated in 2005 and opened officially in 2006.

The current Zoe restaurant is a mix between Zoe Underground — the original coffee spot Wagoner started on campus — and the old breakfast place that stood where Zoe is now.

“I think there is a definite bond between Zoe and the WSU community,” Wagoner said.

The same goes for Cougar Country, too.

“People love Zoe, but I feel like Cougar Country has more of a spiritual connection,” Wagoner said. “When people leave and come back, they have to come to Cougar Country.”

Both Wagoner and his wife are WSU alumni, and when they fell in love with Pullman, he said, they decided to raise their four kids here as well. They have worked to keep their businesses running during COVID-19 shutdowns, and Wagoner said he made sure to thank the community for their support.

“One thing that is a benefit is living in a community like Pullman where the community members stand with one another and support one another,” Wagoner said. “There might be different philosophies and different viewpoints on everything, but a Coug is a Coug. We really appreciate all the Cougs supporting us and keeping us going here.”

It’s always exciting to have a familiar restaurant like Chipotle, but it’s vital to continue supporting the small businesses we already have. It’s clear that our students are excited to get back to Pullman in the spring so that they can continue to do so.

“Businesses who are small in smaller towns are family-owned, and it makes a huge difference to walk in and be welcomed by someone who has been doing that for their whole life versus an employee at a chain restaurant,” Butcher said.

No matter how fun it is to get new businesses in our small town, it’s true that we can get chain restaurant food anywhere in the country. There is only one Zoe and only one Cougar Country. There is no world in which we forget about our beloved restaurants, and they are the Cougs feeding us Cougs after all.