Williams-Sonoma return to Sonoma threatened by possible new city regulations

When Chuck Williams opened his first store in Sonoma in 1956, he introduced a European aesthetic that revolutionized the way Americans cook at home and helped brand the city as a place to enjoy the good life.

But Williams-Sonoma, which is now a $3 billion juggernaut with 268 stores nationwide, could face an uphill battle over its plans to return to Sonoma and open a store at the original site on Broadway where Williams, who is 97, got his start.

That's because the City Council is weighing whether to pass new regulations for chain stores, or formula businesses as the city calls them. On Wednesday, the council will vote whether to enact a moratorium on such businesses until a decision is reached on a proposed ordinance.

"It would be an unfortunate consequence for Williams-Sonoma to not be welcomed back to Sonoma because we have decided that they are too successful for us," said Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders, who is a staunch opponent of chain store regulations.

Representatives of Williams-Sonoma, which is based in San Francisco, met Friday with city officials to discuss the company's desire to open the store in Sonoma. The company is in escrow to purchase the building at 601 Broadway where Chuck Williams first started selling high-end cookware.

"We don't comment on our real estate until we have a fully executed lease," Williams-Sonoma spokeswoman Rebecca Weill said Friday.

Williams moved the original store to San Francisco after being open in Sonoma only two years. But he told people he kept the name because it had cachet.

The city of Sonoma benefited by the brand-association. There is some irony then with the chain now becoming a test of how far city leaders want to go in regulating formula businesses. Williams-Sonoma also owns Pottery Barn.

The current discussion was sparked by the opening of a Staples store last year in what had been the site of a Ford dealership. The recommendations of a controversial ad-hoc committee led by Councilman Steve Barbose are now the basis of a draft ordinance that will be taken up by city leaders.

Barbose declined comment on Friday.

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