Why big box stores might not be so bad

Lots of folks like to rip on the big box stores – especially Walmart. Especially downtown areas that think they are losing out to the large chain stores.

An article in The Atlantic Cities looks at this in a different way. Davis, California is a bike-friendly college town that kept big box retailers out of their town for many years. But a study found that folks there were still shopping at the big box stores but traveling 20 miles to get to one. Getting people out of their cars is a major objective of smart growth so this wasn’t exactly working.

In 2009 a slim majority of residents voted to let a Target come to town. They then did a study to find out how this impacted the town and surprisingly the frequency of shopping trips to the  downtown stores didn’t change  much suggesting that the other big box retailers that were 20 miles away were the ones that were impacted most.

Now what would happen if we had a big box retailer in downtown itself? That would reduce driving even more and could boost restaurants and downtown retail establishments (as long as they don’t sell the exact same goods as the big box retailer).  Get people downtown. That is what’s important.

Your thoughts?



2 responses to this post.

  1. There would definitely be an issue with parking but then maybe that would be the disincentive needed to get people to take the bus 🙂

    Thanks for posting the pics and story!



  2. First, some links:

    Columbia Heights Target




    This is a really interesting idea to me and something I’ve considered quite a bit since this hubbub started with Walmart in DC. My initial thought was that if Walmart could become contextually appropriate, like the rendering above suggests – or the Target flickr picture suggests, then what would the drawback be? We’re getting all the benefits of walkability, plus a major neighborhood anchor, plus the jobs etc. At the very least, I’d be interested to see it move forward somewhere like DC just to see what happens.

    Here are my concerns. A) They can’t get the amount of customers they need by relying on people walking in, at least in a place like Cortland or any city with a smaller downtown area. There would still have to be a significant number of drivers – and most small city road networks would have difficulty handling the increase in capacity. Imagine needing to accommodate all the cars you see in a Walmart parking lot on a Saturday with Port Watson St., Clinton Ave, and Main Street as collector roads. I think it would have to be a large enough city that it could handle the traffic.

    B) Would the organic, local business downtown benefit or be hurt? Would it draw more people downtown to restaurants/retail or draw people just to Walmart (which is a major part of their business model and to me, just as important to their success as the low prices)? I’m not sure people are going to drive to Walmart, shop, and then explore the surrounding neighborhood on foot.

    That said, building it downtown, disguising the big-box design and adding retail and residential units is a better idea to me than building it on the outskirts of town, forcing people to drive and removing them from the central business district (Read South Cortland).


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