What Does it Take to Make Existing Retail Space Useful? Imagination.

What Does it Take to Make Existing Retail Space Useful? Imagination.

As I see it, the need for large store platforms is diminishing, for a while at least. The retail community is starting to think outside the box.

When the economy was booming and credit was easy to obtain, consumers were buying goods at a record pace. Retailers began building bigger and bigger box stores to meet the demand. Now that the economy has cooled and credit has tightened, people aren’t buying as much. Fewer goods are required to satisfy the decreased demand, and suddenly these stores don’t need that extra space. Most of the new box stores we are building today are 15 to 20 percent smaller than five years ago.

But what about all the old locations that companies have abandoned? There are nearly 9,000 box stores ranging in size from 15,000 to 50,000 square feet sitting empty in the United States. What should we do with all this space? There are several possibilities:

Adaptive reuse. Take a building and modify it into something different from its original intended purpose. A prime example can be found in North Carolina, where the old American Tobacco Company has been transformed into condos and office space.

Backfilling. Bring in new stores to take over empty space in malls and other shopping centers. Be creative. There is no reason why an old department store can’t find a new retail life.

Rightsizing. Turn a single store into multiple units. Take a 50,000 square foot box and divide it into two 25,000 square foot stores (or three 16,000 square foot entities). Both Walmart and Target announced recently that they are looking to open smaller 20,000 footprint stores in urban areas

The buildings are there, waiting to be used. We just need to effectively redevelop and remodel them for the good of the communities.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

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