Reuse of Big Box Stores

Circuit City Stores, Inc.

One of the obvious fatalities in The Long Emergency is the Big Box style of store. These stores and the parking lagoons that surround them are features of the suburban North American landscape that make cities un-walkable and unsustainable. Sure, we love the prices, but the ethics and destruction of local commerce make some people quite happy to see these behemoths disappear.

Two recent articles discuss the re-use potential of these structures…

Abandoned Wal-Marts that become schools and churches. – By Julia Christensen – Slate Magazine

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren’t many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it’s not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools—even churches.


Big Box & Beyond: Today’s Temples of Consumption Don’t Have To Be Tomorrow’s Ruins. What’s in Store? –

The supply is growing, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. “Big-box space” continues to capture “the largest share of new additions to U.S. retail space,” according to its April report.

Yet consumer tastes are fickle, gas prices unpredictable, and some chains like Circuit City are on the ropes. Will people want more walkable village-like shopping experiences? Will they prefer to have their goods delivered via the Internet? No real estate trend is forever. Which is why it is beyond time to start thinking creatively about what to do with all the big-box stores in our burbs that become unsuited to their original function long before they physically wear out.

So much space that has been used for trivial consumer goods may end up empty or at least looking for revitalization. What creative ideas do you have for the continued use of these buildings when the oil runs out?

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Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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