Big Box Stores are usually associated more with suburban strip malls and auto-dominated sprawl than dense city living. That doesn’t have to be the case, however, as design considerations can bring large retailers into the city core without expanses of parking lots and with a mix of uses on top.
The photos above and below are of a Whole Foods Market in New York City only a few blocks from my apartment. Big Box retail is all over New York, mostly in large older buildings, but new structures are being built to house large retailers as well. There’s even a so-called “Big Box District” where you can find any of the large-scale stores common in the suburbs right in the middle of Manhattan.
Recently, CoolTown Studios featured a similar project in Vancouver with a supermarket and a Home Depot at the sidewalk level, parking underground, and 90 condos and townhouses above. It features a total of 212,000 square feet of retail and a large green roof serving as a community garden over part of the retail space.
Both buildings discussed here aren’t exactly architectural masterpieces, but they bring in an otherwise impossible retail use into the city. While it may not be popular among the diehard shop local fans, sometimes even a city resident needs something a big box retailer sells nowadays such as a large plastic storage tub or an alarm clock radio. We’re going to eventually need larger grocery stores in urban areas as well. I believe an appropriate mix of national and local retailers creates the most functional city for all residents.
Large retail hasn’t really happened in the core of Louisville, yet. There was talk in Business First earlier this year that T.J. Maxx wanted to open a store in Downtown Louisville, but finding the right size space was a problem. Should we be encouraging developers to include large spaces in new projects? Should we try to bring big box retail Downtown at all?
I have seen other examples of an urban big box stores in Chicago where the retail space occupies the ground floor of a parking garage. If you shop at the store, you get a waiver or discount on parking in the garage. Most new garages built in Louisville have some sort of retail component, but usually just a token amount of a couple thousand square feet. Should new garages be built with larger spaces? How is urban shopping going to change in the average American city as density and population rises?