Wal-Mart Light: Big Box Store Goes After the Urban Market

Wal-Mart announced a new "urban strategy" to move into cities that have traditionally been hostile to the big box retailer. Smaller format stores will concentrate on selling groceries, which account for about half the company's sales already.

The stores will be in the range of 20,000 square feet and will feature fresh food and prepared take-out. The San Francisco Bay Area is a target, as the company hopes to open two dozen stores in the region. "Wal-Mart is throwing out their old playbook," said Garrick Brown, VP of research at Colliers International, to the Chronicle. "They're going after the urban market, which they haven't been able to penetrate, mostly because of their size." Brown said that a company source expects Wal-Mart to open between 300 and 400 new city-centric stores nation-wide.

Thanks to Amy Heibel

Full Story: American Banking News



big box and New Urbanism - can they co-exist?

One of my questions about New Urbanism has always been whether its principles are compatible with big box stores. Maybe not spiritually, but practically, can they coexist? So its interesting to see Walmart adapt this strategy. This follows similar moves in the UK by Tesco, Sainsburys and other supermarkets to provide smaller format stores in city centres. My understanding is that they have been a great success there so there is no reason to think Walmart will not be successful in this instance.

There are however examples of big box stores, as big boxes, fitting into urban environments. The Cambie Village neighbourhood in Vancouver is a great example. Canadian Tire sits on top of Best Buy (or something like that) but they both have street level access, with residential above. There are smaller units on side streets. Parking is on the roof or underground.

So maybe they can co-exist? What do others think? (I think that if they can't co-exist we have a problem, because most people will bee hard pushed to give them up.)

Tim Barton

I like your distinction

I like your distinction between spiritual and practical coexistence, and agree that at least the latter is possible. Target, I believe, was the pioneer in this area and has been successful thus far. In the new South Beach neighborhood near AT&T Park in San Francisco, both Safeway and Borders Books have found homes in mixed-use environments. While I'll avoid any comments on the inherent sterility of the neighborhood, the Safeway, at least, fits into the urban fabric much more than it's other stores, such as in the Castro, which are typical suburban abortions complete with the requisite surrounding sea of asphalt.

However, I think targeting urban markets has as much to do with branding and image as anything else. Target has been seen by urban-dwellers for sometime now as relatively cool and worthy of getting in the car and venturing into the suburban badlands for. Costco is much the same. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, is still largely viewed as the domain of the Cheez Doodle-munching and Big Gulp-slurping demographic. Shaking this image will be hard. Doing so in San Francisco will be even more difficult, particularly if they are planning to compete for the dollars of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods shoppers, who also have an abundance of locally-owned grocers to choose from as well as Farmer's Markets: both of which carry far more "green cred" than does Wal-Mart.

Irvin Dawid's picture

Grist/NRDC looks at this topic - well-written

No offense to American Banking News, but I Kaid Benfield's write-up of the "urban Walmart" development is far more apropos for Planetizen readers: Walmart goes urban: be careful what we wish for?.
Myself - I'll look to see how much parking will be provided at the new, smaller stores - more than code will require?
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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