here's a certain delicious irony in watching the demise of so-called big-box retailers, who themselves caused the demise of so many independent stores and contributed to the mallification of America. Unfortunately, any schadenfreude over the closing of Best Buy, Staples, or Barnes & Noble stores is more than offset by the fact that the demise of big-box retailers poses a few problems for property owners and communities.
Perhaps the most popular reuse for empty big box stores is as places of worship.
Finding businesses willing to move into 50,000 square-foot retail spaces is not easy, and tearing them down and putting other buildings in their place is extremely expensive, and very wasteful—according to Julia Christensen, author of Big Box Reuse, the energy used to tear down and rebuild one of these spaces could power the city of Los Angeles for 10 years.
So what can be done with these big empty spaces? Sometimes car dealers will rent out the massive parking lots for weekend sales, and many empty big-boxes find temporary use as Halloween stores, but there are unexpected uses as well.
Some are being converted into medical facilities, and some are finding new life as satellite school campuses. A former Borders Bookshop in Mansfield, Massachusetts was converted into an indoor skating rink, a former Walmart in Round Rock, Texas found new life as an indoor Go Kart facility, before being redeveloped as a strip mall, and an old K-Mart in Austin, Minnesota has been converted into the SPAM Museum.
Perhaps the most popular reuse for empty big box stores is as places of worship. In Pinellas Park, Florida an old Wal-Mart was turned into the Calvary Chapel, and in Latham, New York, the Grace Fellowship Church occupies the spot that once housed the Grand Union Grocery Store.
Megachurches have been on the rise in the last few decades, and with big-box retailers on the decline, megachurches are the perfect new tenants, since moving their congregations into existing structures is far less costly than buying land and building a church from the ground up.
To learn more about the fate of big-box structures, visit Julia Christensen's website.