Chains don’t stamp out local hot spots in college town of Columbia, Mo.

I recently returned from my first visit to Columbia, Mo., since I graduated from the University of Missouri there 1994. I am a graduate of the Journalism School there, or J-school as we like to call it, which is considered one of the best in the country for both newspapers and broadcasting. Columbia and the campus are in the middle of the state of Missouri, tucked between rural areas about two and a half hours from both Kansas City and St. Louis. Famous reporters from Jim Lehrer to Paula Zahn spent their college years in Columbia, and chances are very likely if a student is at MU from out of state, he or she is there for the J-school.

Some lectures I gave to journalism students on risk and economic reporting were arranged by J-school graduate student Lene Johansen, whom we will soon be proud to be hosting as CEI’s new Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow. I’ll have more on how the lectures went later.

First, I wanted to talk about changes in the campus and the town. I didn’t know what to expect. I went there in the pre-Starbucks era. Sure enough there was a Starbucks now 9th Street, a main street that runs through the campus. But to my delight, my favorite local coffee house, Lakota, a “microroastery” that roasts its own beans, was standing still standing proudly on 9th Street. I brought back for fellow Open Marketeers some great almond biscotti that Lakota sells.

A Chipotle had also come to 9th Street since I left. But the good old campus hangout Shakespeare’s Pizza was also still on 9th, and the pizza was as good as ever.

So the best local restaurants had thrived, yet students and profs now have more choices with the large chains. And notice that both local places now have web sites. That’s how the Open Market is supposed to work. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the joints that Starbucks and Chipotle replaced. Maybe they just weren’t worth remembering. Anyway, this shows chains can enhance local culture, rather than destroying it, as market critics claim.