Putting local flavor in San Jose airport: SMALL BUSINESSES FEAR SQUEEZE-OUT

Aug. 14--Longtime San Jose restaurateur Tim Muller would love to have a brand new Lou's Crab Shack in San Jose's gleaming new airport when it is finally completed in 2010. Muller, who along with his brother closed his 60-year-old Lou's Village...

HMS executive Pat Banducci said his company sometimes needs exclusive deals to be competitive. But he said that when HMS runs a business, it is because that is what the owner wants. About half of the restaurants HMS oversees at the airport now are operated by the owners, not HMS, he added.

Other likely bidders, such as mall developer Westfield, reportedly are telling small-business owners that they won't prevent them from being part of another bidder's package -- but they won't guarantee them a spot if Westfield wins, either. Westfield spokeswoman Catharine Dickey said in an e-mail that the company doesn't talk about "speculation" but does not require exclusives.

Airport officials say that after holding 31 public meetings, they are acutely aware of the community's desire to showcase small local businesses.

Pat Dando, the head of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said her group has been pushing airport officials to ensure that there is "strong consideration" given to local businesses; that airport concessions give travelers a taste of the region; and that small businesses aren't cut out of competition because conglomerates can better compete on price.

Vossbrink said airports nationwide are trying to feature more businesses that are unique to their cities, with fewer McDonald's or Starbucks outlets. "Everybody wants you to know you flew out of their airport."

Contact Deborah Lohse at dlohse@mercurynews.com or (408) 275-0140.

To see more of the San Jose Mercury News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mercurynews.com. Copyright (c) 2007, San Jose Mercury News, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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