What to do with cast off big box stores?

An explosion of civic or capitalistic pride seems to blow whenever a new or bigger and better big box store comes to town. At least this is the case among enthusiastic shoppers fond of one store over another or among city boosters. Sometimes this happens and one big box store will shut down to build a more grand store in the same city. This took place relatively recently where I live. Academy built a larger store just a ways up Eastex Freeway from their old store. And Circuit City — which is facing store closings nationwide due — moved into a new store inside the Parkdale Mall complex on the other side of Eastex Freeway from the old store it left empty not far from the deserted old Academy on Eastex Freeway. Whew! That made me dizzy.

It appears that the new Circuit City here will not be closed, right away at least, thus leaving us TWO deserted big boxes of the same company. But the natural selection of business, encompassing both growth and failure, has left these giant retail spaces all over the American landscape and what remains behind isn’t always so attractive. I mean, face it, a huge Wal-Mart might look grand when you are going there to buy everything under the Sun what with a parking lot full of cars and folks selling pit bull pups from the back of their pickup trucks. But a weed-covered empty big box, especially those whopped by hurricane damage, just aren’t very cool.

Luckily, some places have found ways to deal with the big boxes we leave behind. Slate’s Julia Christiansen explains in a slide show how these Pac Men of space have found new lives in everything from mega churches to public libraries to the official Spam museum in Hormel Land a.k.a. Austin, Minn.

I have seen some of the big box transformations with my own eyes which seem to work well. Here in Beaumont, for example, regional appliance giant Conn’s turned the old K-Mart store here into their company headquarters housing more than 500 people. This is just one example. There are also many large buildings which contain certain stores or another which end up holding some other large store or another. Recently I saw a former Safeway supermarket turned into a large CVS drug store.

The face of retail sales is something which constantly changes and, in my opinion, not always for the good. I’ve seen places where indoor malls have turned into wastelands for large, spread-out shopping cities which requires driving to get from one end to another. People who live in places such as I, where it gets hot, humid, rainy and hurricany (if that’s not a word, then sorry, maybe it should be) should come to appreciate indoor shopping malls. But I am glad the cast-off big boxes are finding utility. I just wish some folks had a little more foresight before they build these large monuments to the so-called “free market.”

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