Mc'nnapolis Anne Arundel County: Downtown long eschewed McDonald's, but it will aid West Street.

September 11, 1996

BY PERMITTING McDonald's to open an express outlet in a vacant storefront on West Street, sans arches, the Annapolis City Council has improved the fortunes of that area.

Members of the community who opposed the approval may come to realize that a fast-food outlet might not carry the cachet of an art gallery or a trendy restaurant, but it will go a long way toward reversing the street's plodding revitalization efforts.

Albeit on a smaller scale, McDonald's and its immensely marketed fare may do for the first block of West Street what Walt Disney Co., that other purveyor of pop culture, is doing for Manhattan's Times Square. It will draw families and others into an area where they weren't apt to venture previously.

Foot traffic is a key to retail success. West Street needs people. In spite of a handful of attractive restaurants and shops, the block is usually empty except during lunch hour.

As the world's largest purveyor of fast food with unrivaled marketing skill, McDonald's can attract people as few other businesses can.

Its opponents sought a "classier" tenant, and recalled the mid-1970s when an orange-wigged effigy of Ronald McDonald was pitched into the harbor, Boston Tea Party-like, as part of a protest to block the fast-food concern from setting up shop downtown.

The continued resistance toward McDonald's became a uniquely Annapolitan story: Other small towns still fight Wal-Mart and the like, but Americans have pretty much come to regard McDonald's and its fast-food cousins like they do highway signage: as ubiquitous, unremarkable and wholly necessary. The McDonald's chain alone opens seven restaurants every day.

The question before the Annapolis City Council was not about the quality of Mickey D's hamburgers, but whether an occupied storefront on West Street is better than a vacant one. The McDonald's plan it approved is to have signage more fitting for the historic area than the typical garish red and yellow motif.

If this store does as well as thousands of others, the crowds that regularly stroll east of Church and State circles may move west more often and help invigorate other businesses on West Street.

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