Drake Patten only wanted to start a business. Her store, cluck!, was intended to nurture and supply materials to the emerging urban farming and gardening movements. In the process, she was going to revitalize a long-abandoned gas station on Broadway. It seemed like a simple – and non-controversial – plan.
Then, the opposition started. Various factions, including some abutting neighbors and Sts. Vartanantz Aremian Church across the street, came out to fight Patten's plan, including the zoning variance she needed. Evenutally, she won her case and was set to open for business. Then, the opposition appealed, winning on a minor technicality, and now she is forced to start over again. In the process, this little corner of Broadway has become a battleground for competing visions of the neighborhood. Opponents cite concerns about increased traffic and parking, and contend that the business would not be in keeping with the character of the neighorhood. Meanwhile, many neighbors – including residents, business owners, community organizations and elected officials – have rallied behind Patten's cause, going so far as to stage a rally of support outside the store on April 14 and organizing a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to help pay for the legal services necessary to restart the process. We caught up with Patten and asked her for an update...
How did we wind up with all this fuss over a farm supply store? Why are you so controversial?
I wish I knew. Some of the reasons that have been expressed to me firsthand or otherwise seem just too strange or nonsensical to entertain. In the end, I actually don't know if it is my business specifically or just any business on that site. I am not the first one to be opposed there – I am just the first one who didn't leave. Perhaps it is as simple as everyone wants that site and its continued emptiness had interested parties imagining all kinds of opportunity for themselves. I've also been alerted that there is financial support coming in to the opposition's case that is linked to my neighborhood work opposing an out-of-scale development planned for Western Cranston. I find that kind of alarming, and I really hope it is not true, but people do strange things in the name of profit. In the end, I really don't know what the reason is.
So now that your opponents won the last round, what's next? How do you move forward? What's the plan?
Our only choice is to return to zoning and start again as if the original decision never happened. Nothing has changed since that last decision, so we expect the decision will be the same. At that point, those in opposition can again appeal the decision, request a stay, appeal my building permit. This delay has already done irreparable damage to my business and I foresee more to come. I am peddling outdoors now on good weather days, trying to recoup some of this loss. Not the best plan, but it's what I have!
What kind of support have you gotten from the community? It seems like the neighborhood has really rallied behind you.
Here's the deal: the plan I talk about wouldn't be the plan without the community support cluck! is receiving. I was really at the point of walking away – not just from Broadway, but from Providence. Honestly. I have been so humbled and moved by the actions of so many, from donations to cluck's legal defense fund to the really personal expressions of support from individuals and businesses. I have been impressed with the City, with Mayor Taveras, with Councilman Principe and Representative Lombardi. I am overwhelmed with ideas, advice, and even offers of space. I am sustained by this at a very weird and disorienting time. And the long and the short of it is that without the financial support, I couldn't afford to go through the process again.
If you could just sit down for some coffee with the people who are against cluck!, what would you tell them?
Well, I did sit down with one part of the opposition: church leaders (the only ones who would meet with me), back before the hearing. I told them what I would tell anyone involved with the oppostion: Here is what I am doing. And I would ask what worries them. And right now, I would ask them. "Why are you really doing this?"
Having gone through this, what advice can you pass on to other people looking to start small businesses?
It takes a... city.