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Old April 2nd, 2006, 12:46 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Big Box Retail

For those living outside North America, has the big box retail concept invaded your city? If so, how pervasive is it to your regular shopping? For those living in North America, has there been any backlash over big box planning and car dependency? Is downtown retail suffering?

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Old April 2nd, 2006, 12:58 AM   #2
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It hasn't invaded where I live simply because it's not a big place and the supermarkets in the centre of the town are ample for the needs of the people. However one town away there's a large out of town Tesco which many people drive to, however it's situated beside the old part of the town and isn't completely isolated.

One place in the UK where Big Box Retail is probably as bad as N.America is Milton Keynes. The fact that it was designed to be similar to LA may be one of the causes.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 03:49 AM   #3
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In suburban Toronto, they are quite common

These big box retail outlets thrive because the products are so cheap. No "urban experience" but you can get a good product at a good price. People are cheap and they appreciate going to a store where they are confident that prices are amongst the cheapest for a certain range of product. This is why Wal Mart is thriving.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 04:20 AM   #4
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Yes, the proliferation of “Big Box” retail has become a big issue across California.

In 1978, Proposition 13 capped property taxes statewide. That turned out fine for homeowners. But it created fiscal problems for localities. Cash-strapped localities were forced to rely more on commercial & retail, particularly Big Box retail, to replace lost property tax revenues. Bay Area suburbs are littered with empty early Big Boxes that have been abandoned as obsolete after just a few decades. Of course, the Big Boxes encourage sprawl & auto dependency, as many are built away from the established transit networks. The weaker existing commercial districts in stagnant & poorer declining areas tend to be hurt more than the stronger downtowns in growing, prosperous areas.

There was a ballot proposition a couple of years ago in the most populous all-suburban Bay Area county that was aimed at curbing Big Box. Wal-Mart lobbied heavily against it, claiming that jobs would be lost. The prop lost by a very slim margin.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 04:57 AM   #5
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When I go out on Long Island, I have been seeing a number of big box retail stores accross the highways.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 01:35 PM   #6
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Still no Wal-Mart in NYC.. .though we have at least two Targets.

I personally don't shop at such stores, unless I, say, get a gift certificate to Best Buy or something. The biggest store I'm guilty of shopping at often is probably Tower Records, because it can be a bitch sometimes finding that specific jazz or reggae record at a local store.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 06:41 PM   #7
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Wasn't there a plan to bring Walmart or Home Depot to Manhattan?
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 06:50 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hkskyline
Wasn't there a plan to bring Walmart or Home Depot to Manhattan?
Home Depot already opened, in a very beautiful store. Retailers obviously wouldn't use their regular format (big plain store with parking lot) in such a place.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 08:41 PM   #9
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"Big Box" retail is the best thing that's happened for consumers in the past hundred years. Has everyone here who likes to bitch about Best Buy forgotten what life was like before them? Remember the downtown camera or electronics store that was open Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm, but closed at random times for lunch? In other words, closed precisely when YOU were most likely to go there? Where everything was kept locked in glass cases, and you couldn't even touch the instruction manual without buying it first? And the cost was roughly twice what you could buy it for via mail order?

If sprawl and abandoned stores are the cost of low-cost abundance, bring it on! There's no way in HELL I'd ever give up Best Buy, CompUSA, Target, Borders, Sports Authority, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, and the rest of the stores it's oh-so-fashionable to diss and condemn here.

Now, as far as abandoned stores causing blight are a problem (which I agree, is a problem), there's an easy solution: make it too expensive for abandoned big box stores' owners to hold on to them forever. The whole problem comes from the fact that abandoned big box stores are usually taxed as derelict, run-down properties with no special value. Actually, you could argue that in a tight, crowded urban real estate market, such properties are substantially MORE valuable to the owners' competitors, which is why the old owners would prefer to hold on to them instead. So instead, base their taxable value according to what the most motivated potential buyer would be willing to pay so it'll become TOO EXPENSIVE to just sit on such properties. Or pass a law making it illegal to visibly mothball large properties during normal business hours, so that the store's owners would STILL have to lavishly maintain the parking lot's landscape, light it up at night, and take down the shutters every day -- probably having to pay at least one person to actively patrol the property during those hours to protect it while the gates and shutters are open. Make them take down the signs, or maintain them at full aesthetic standards, and aggressively fine them for broken signs or windows, graffiti, etc. that isn't fixed right away. In other words, make them pay the full costs of keeping the store presentable and appearing to be open for business every single day.
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 09:47 PM   #10
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With Big Box retail comes Big Ass parking lots.......
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 11:12 PM   #11
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I work for a 'big box' retailer with 200 stores around the UK. Basically HUGE metal sheds selling cheap clothing and homewares.

www.matalan.co.uk
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Old April 2nd, 2006, 11:16 PM   #12
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Chicago suburbs- YES
Chicago itself- Yes
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 12:13 AM   #13
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First of all, thank you Miamicanes for pointing out the obvious (that many people on here probably don't realize is obvious) about Big Box stores. In reality, I think that the only people who don't want "Big Box" stores are many city planners and certain members of the intellectual elite. Everyone else seems to have no problem with them. In my opinion, Big Box stores are usually cheaper and have a much better selection of items than "Mom and Pop" stores. For some reason, the US has a romantic attachment to small business, and this is evident in all the complaining about Big Boxes.

It is wrong to assume that ALL Big Boxes encourage sprawl and an auto-dependent lifestyle. Here in Madrid, we have various branches of El Corte Ingles (which is a huge department store that has everything - clothes, electronics, a supermarket, a liquor store, a travel agency, and whatever else you can think of). It is our version of a Walmart Supercenter, and I cannot think of stores that embody the "Big Box" concept more than this. However, most of these stores are located in urban or very dense suburban neighborhoods with access to subway and bus lines. In other words, most people neither drive nor leave the city to access these stores. I just don't see anything wrong with this scenario. To me, this is comparable with Macy's biggest store in Manhattan and others like it. Why are stores like Home Depot, Macy's, and Target bad for urban places according to those who are against Big Boxes? I just fail to understand this, because Bix Boxes in urban enviroments usually adapt to their surroundings and rarely build massive, above-ground parking lots. Romanticize Mom and Pop stores as much as you want, but please explain to me why Big Boxes are seen as essentially evil to many people on this board.

Another thing I want to ask is this: if Big Boxes (in general) supposedly encourage an auto-dependant lifestyle, why are they worse than Mom and Pop stores in suburban communities that are already auto-dominated? I am going to give you all a US example and I want you to tell me what you think (Miamicanes you will know this example) - Kendall, FL is a huge, sprawling suburban community south of Miami whose main (surface) streets and avenues have 6-8 lanes and are lined with Big Boxes, strip malls, and apartment complexes. It is auto-dominated to the max, and with exception to "downtown Kendall" and all those new developments (check the Miami forum for details on this), this is not going to change for a long time. My question is this: what if those Big Boxes didn't exist? Would that encourage a LESS auto-dominated lifestyle? I really don't think so.. if small Mom and Pop stores lined the major roads instead of Big Boxes, everyone would just drive to them, therefore NOT doing anything to improve traffic or pedestrian conditions. I know that many of you like to idealize things and dream of a world that is not dominated by the car, but in most American suburbs, the car and the Big Box are not going anywhere for a long time. In the meantime, I pose one final question: are Big Boxes REALLY contributing to the problem, or are they just serving as an easy target to blame for suburbanization of the US and the world?
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 12:26 AM   #14
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You're forgetting that even if they are near PT in cities, they have poor interaction with the street. People go in and out to their cars from one central exit, never walking around the sides of these stores that usually face the street (I'm thinking urban Targets here). Compare that to small shops that take the same amount of space but have many entrances and fully utilize the streets and sidewalks.

Your second example is also weird. Mom & Pop stores hang around the old historic downtown in most cases, not the mini-highway you described.Those 6-8 lane streets exist only to accommodate the traffic generated by stripmalls and big box stores. And yes, you may have to drive to get to these downtowns, but once there you can park once and walk to each store.

I still have many problems with Walmart because of their business practices, but I think big box can adapt to urban areas provided they spend some money and pay attention to the area instead of trying to use the same formula for success nationwide.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 01:02 AM   #15
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Thank you for your answer Spyguy, I especially liked the first part about not utilizing sidewalks and being less pedestrian-friendly. However, about my "weird" second example (Kendall, FL and other suburban communities like it) - for all practial purposes, there are NO historic downtowns in suburban South Florida. I already knew that when I wrote my post - I'm trying to ask that if a community is ALREADY auto-dominated with no real downtown, why are Big Boxes still "evil" if they cause no more auto dependance than Mom and Pops that are located in suburbia? Furthermore, in all those stripmalls that you will find all over suburban Florida, probably more than half of the stores are NOT national chains, rather Mom and Pop, small businesses like Chinese restaurants, Argentinean bakeries, attorneys' offices, and barber shops. If there is no historic downtown, these business pretty much HAVE to operate from strip malls, and in effect, they do. There are plenty of Mom and Pop stores from which to choose in places like suburban Florida, and they are NO MORE accessible without a car than the Big Boxes. "Mom and Pop" does not necessarily equal more urban nor more pedestrian friendly.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 01:13 AM   #16
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There's a big-box development about 20 minutes from my house. It's convenient, but it has hurt the downtown - all the department stores moved out. It's a pretty ugly place to drive through, too. All you see from the highway is the big "Costco" sign.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 03:24 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hkskyline
Wasn't there a plan to bring Walmart or Home Depot to Manhattan?
Home Depot has "Expo" centers in Manhattan (the ones with really nice fixtures and stuff), and now there's a plan to bring a regular one, but it's probably being fought against. Who knows.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 04:39 AM   #18
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It's common in the outer fringes of Sydney. Not so common in the older suburbs, where supermarkets, discount stores etc are generally integrated into high street shopping and urban shopping centres. Bunnings is the main 'Big Box' chain, though that term doesn't get used here.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 03:35 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crisp444
for all practial purposes, there are NO historic downtowns in suburban South Florida.
I don't think that is totally accurate. I used to feel that way about central Florida. It was only after I made the effort to tear myself away from those strip malls that I found that there were areas that are, or at least were, more "village-like" areas. The problem is that with so much focus on strip malls those areas get overlooked or ignored at best, more often than not totally wiped out in development.

There is a very logical place for big-box retail. The fact is it often times provides better service than smaller shops, and there is a very practical side of life.

The problem comes when large chanins take away the element of choice (you can only buy what they choose to carry), the element of socialization (stores are isolated, and the act of going between them encourages isolation), and poor land management (large paved surfaces, huge structures for given floorspace, and large blank walls). All of these can be overcome, but they need effort, andf sometimes that is the furthest thing from a developer's mind.

What can get lost however, is that the smaller shops (we call them mom and pop, but I think it is more accurate to call them independants) are much more accountable to a local commmunity. They promote individual identity instead of fighting it, and keep the focus - and money, in the community instead of transfering it to the home office. They more actively promote good planning and promote innovation.

SO ther eis a balance - you need a little of both.
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Old April 3rd, 2006, 11:16 PM   #20
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There a few huge ones about a ten minute drive away from my house in Beckton. Supermarkets (Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco), DIY places (B&Q), Staples, furniture superstores, etc.
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