Big-Box Retailers: How Are They Being Repurposed and Who Are the Major Players Taking Them Over?
Big-box stores were once hailed as the future of retail, but in 2019, they’re rapidly becoming part of the past. Given that these huge structures usually required costly infrastructure changes — like new roadwork and high-demand utility connections — when they were built, it would be wasteful to simply abandon or demolish them. With more than 10.4 billion square feet of retail space measured in 2016, there’s a lot of potential for reusing these super-sized commercial buildings as the retailers that built them move on or disappear.
What are Big-Box Stores Turning Into?
While the sudden collapse of retailers like Toys R’ Us and Circuit City tends to get the most press, many big-box retailers have been shrinking for decades now. This has provided a steady stream of empty spaces to repurpose, and the new uses range from the expected to the unusual.
Retail Storage Centers
When Toys R’ Us first announced it was closing 800 stores at once, digital retail giant Amazon was quick to announce its interest in reusing the buildings. If Amazon follows through, the company doesn’t intend to operate most of the spaces as regular retail stores, but as storage and shipping centers that are closer to its customers. This is one of the biggest trends in big-box store reuse, and it’s a natural fit because the stores need relatively few changes to be reused as warehouses or shipping centers.
A slightly more outside-the-box approach to big-box reuse is the trend of building call centers inside of them. Some modifications are definitely needed to turn a retail store into a call center, but the existing power supply and extensive parking eliminate some of the biggest costs associated with building a call center from scratch.
Who’s Taking Them Over?
Not all of the players in the big-box reuse market are large, private companies looking to grow. There are many other organizations and groups driving the development of these empty storefronts, and the creativity behind these alternative-use plans is often downright astounding.
Some of the most exciting big-box store reuse ideas are coming from local governments and other municipal groups. For example, the McAllen Main Library in Texas is now the country’s largest single-story library and serves hundreds of thousands of patrons every year. Other local governments have reused big-box stores as courthouses, town halls, and other essential buildings that need plenty of space to grow.
Big, empty, square structures are ideal for transforming into the latest mixed-use housing developments. Mixed-use housing combines apartments or condominiums with shopping, dining, and other services all within the same structure or connected structures. Since big-box stores are essentially a blank canvas, developers can mix and match features as long as they all fit within the existing footprint.
Growing churches and other nonprofits are also taking advantage of the affordable and easy-to-customize space offered by empty big-box stores. From homeless shelters to thrift stores, these reuse projects not only make the most of the existing space, but they also help enrich the communities around them.
Big-box store innovations will only continue to grow as millions of square feet in retail space become available for reuse. This trend is sure to shape commercial real estate development for decades to come.
Nova has experienced this first hand by overseeing the repurposing of various assets throughout the United States. Nova’s head of Construction Services Group, Joseph DiBernardo, states that “in addition to being involved in the repositioning of big-box stores, we have seen a variety of assets turnover to meet the demands of the market. A few recent projects include the upfront review and ongoing monitoring of an NYC mid-rise apartment building into a collaborative office workspace, an Atlanta mid-town office building into a medical office and an old post office into a restaurant. We anticipate this being a large focus for us in 2019 and beyond.”
For more information on Nova’s involvement in the repurposing of assets, please contact:
Joseph, with a background in civil engineering, has over 23 years of experience in engineering design, consulting, construction monitoring, and project management. More recently, he has focused on construction loan risk management for national and international lenders, commercial banks, real estate management firms, private equity investors, tax credit unions, and reliance lenders. He is currently responsible for management of a technical staff of architects, engineers, and construction specialists; department sales/marketing; preparing proposals; client interface; and construction administration reporting to minimize construction risks for clients.