Familiar chain stores are landmarks
Have you ever tried to meet someone downtown and after trying to explain directions give up and spout out a local landmark? Is that landmark generally a world or nationally known establishment? Anchorage has a few that I use consistently: Hard Rock Cafe, Nordstrom, Hilton Hotel, JC Penny. Chain stores/establishments are successful landmarks because their brand association has a significant value of recognition allowing them to be key indicators in the landscape for tourist's and locals alike.
If a tourist asks where Peratrovich park is so they may go enjoy the music on Wednesdays from noon to 1 pm, my immediate question to them is: Do you know where the Hard Rock cafe is? Because this is something that anyone from anywhere in the world would know. There is a sense that people establish their bearings in a location based off of known points, these points generally defer to an element that is already engrained in a person's mind. The assimilation that said landmark creates allows an individual to feel comfortable and aware of their surroundings and relax in the environment. These are important elements to a touristic city and is something and Anchorage must continue to encourage and nurture. This does not mean provide chain store after chain store. This means provide one chain store to help users navigate an area and infill with local shops and tourist activities.
Personal opinion beyond the urban code study:
Anchorage has an interesting phenomenon in regards to chain stores. And I say this because I have my own opinion as to why chain stores are successful in Anchorage. I'm sure my opinions are going to be controversial, but here they are; out for the world to see:
The local who is a stereotypical American who wants to consume the way an American consumes: fast and furious without further thought towards the local economy and oh-so-many-more issues.
The military presence who, because of the continual sense of displacement, enjoy the feeling of stores that are familiar no matter where they are. I understand this because I grew up in the military moving every year or two. Familiarity was a key element of my constantly changing environment.
And specifically to the downtown area, the tourists looking for that t-shirt to add to their collection; stamp in their Hard Rock Cafe passport.
I'm not a proponent of chain stores, though I understand that they are a vital source to the economy. My preference is local shops, but I have shopped and supported chain stores. They provide a level of convenience and I cannot deny the cost effective nature of their goods. However, when I do shop local I feel good about myself. A proud citizen pushing the economy of small businesses. My closet is packed full of shoes from ShuzyQ. Actually, ashamedly, they have spilled into the spare bedroom, overflowed the box at the back door, and are surreptitiously tucked under chairs in the living room. My body is fueled off of Steam Dot or Black Cup (which I continually and for ever will mistakenly call Cafe del Mundo). Local feels good.