The gas station has long been a mainstay of American urban form, but aggressive expansion during the U.S.’s post-war suburban boom effectively over positioned low-volume, small square footage stations throughout the country. Now the United States finds itself in the midst of a multi-decade decline in the number of gas station retailers. There’s a volatile mix of trends behind the steady evaporation of American gas stations—everything from market consolidation to tightening margins on retail sales. The forces at work are economically epic, structurally complex beasts beyond the remedy of any singular shift in market behavior or regulatory policy.
To a developer, a gas station’s highly specialized site layout and environmental risks make for an undesirable and needlessly complicated investment. As a result, many sit along the street boarded up and in disrepair. Forgotten, they are striking, even artistic, in what they symbolize: an old way of life in decline, but a decline that presents a possibility for change in values, purpose, and use.
Lindsey examines three strategies for finding new ways to use this specialized land use.