R-engineering The 'Big Box' Design

As planners in cities across the US fight the bland design and high vacancy rates of of encroaching big box stores, the industry becomes more flexible and begins experimenting with new designs.

"City planners in Charlotte and other towns are taking a stronger stand against big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Lowe's, responding to complaints about their monotonous facades and high vacancy rates.

More important, perhaps, its developers and those of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Sardis Road North were the first in Charlotte to agree to conditions that make it more likely the stores will be re-used if they should ever go dark.

...Big-box chains are testing new types of stores in markets across the country, said Anita Kramer, director of retail development for the Urban Land Institute. While much of the credit for the shift goes to tenacious city planners, she said, the retailers themselves have also become more flexible."

Full Story: Retailers thinking outside 'big box'



Lots of filters, not much coffee

I hear a lot about "unique" big box store but outside the confines of major downtowns most of what I see is window dressing- fake second stories, some structured parking (IKEA esp. often touts this, mostly because they often build structured parking anyway to accomodate their huge parking needs.) But at the end of the day I find these changes are pretty minor in scale- I have yet to see a real change in one of these stores unless it is in a major downtown. Lots of pictures of nice stores, very few that I think really end up that nice.

I am actually fairly sympathetic to the big box retailers in principle- that is the way retail is going. I just don't think they really want to bother to do a real "development deal", perhaps due to limited internal capacity, and would rather just build their store. I know of two cases in New England alone where a developer agreed to have mixed use on their site to get their permitting but ended up only building their store due to a lack of real interest in following through with mixed use.

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