Ojai banned chain stores long ago, and that lovely valley town is packed with crowds seeking art, jazz and fine food. Old Town Pasadena welcomed every tony chain and lots of crap ones, erasing Old Town and its hip crowds to lure dazed suburban families and professionals who spend wildly. To each his own.
Malibu -- artsy, salty, get-away-from-Rodeo Drive Malibu -- surprised us. It went with Newport Beach teetering on glam high heels. It forklifted parts of South Coast Plaza to Cross Creek Road so it needn't drive down there. Now, the City Council is -- once again -- considering a chain store ban, so bored is it with Sephora, Kitson, Juicy Couture, Missoni, Ralph Lauren, True Religion and Crapster (just kidding) where ballet and book shops once were. Developers now want Whole Foods, which means Costco and Malibu Jiffy Lube can't be far behind.
We ran into Dick Van Dyke last week -- himself -- in a front office across from Malibu City Hall, where he was amiably chatting up people.
The globally known comedian has a fantastic edginess, and that huge smile. Somebody mentioned Mr. Van Dyke's much-repeated letter to the editor of The Malibu Times five years ago, back when Malibu's march toward the glam chain stores had already begun.
In his letter, Mr. Van Dyke said he could no longer buy "a screwdriver" or "underwear" in his longtime home of Malibu. And as the Great Recession wore on, far more of South Coast Plaza and Rodeo Drive transplanted itself to the shops in the once-charming Malibu Country Mart and Lumberyard.
"Can you believe it?!" Mr. Van Dyke asked a nodding stranger -- or perhaps a longtime friend. Not that it mattered. He's pals with everyone in Malibu.
So what's the issue here? This is, after all, America.
Maybe the over-important chain stores saved Malibu's butt during the recession. And business has a right to grow and build whatever the zoning allows.
On the other hand, in Los Angeles County, and especially in the City of Los Angeles, developers bully past the laws. In L.A., the game is to see how utterly a developer can make the existing zoning law on any given street vanish by tapping into City Hall's 90% approval rate for special "exemptions." Then the developer gives a ton of campaign cash to politicians running for office at City Hall.
It's a setup, as they would say in Brooklyn.
So in Southern California, including little enclaves like Malibu, oh, about 1 million people who aren't in a coma are deeply cynical about "zoning" and "development proposals." They fight and fight and fight not because they never shop in these places, but because they believe the fix is in.
Even when it isn't.
That's what happens when the business class turns the rules into a running joke. Then the developers bitch that the locals are anti-everything.
So in Malibu, the lines are drawn. If you play backgammon, the board is currently controlled by the chain stores who have swarmed the inner board of the independent stores and cafes that once drew Pierce Brosnan or Badgley Mischka.
But the PO'd citizens of Malibu -- those who don't buy teetering Newport Beach glam heels -- might still have a back-game to play. They're a feisty bunch.