Saturday, July 28, 2012

Unboxing the Big Box

The recent discussion about urban big box retailers has reached a zenith with the debut of a new Target retailer in the Loop, occupying the historic Carson Pirie Scott building.  The grand opening was July 29th.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Matthew Yglesias recently opined that this trend was a part of big box retailer's attempt to stave a systemic decline due to online retailers:

"Over the past five years, the urban/suburban growth balance has actually shifted toward rough parity and with the retail sector having already oversaturated suburban shopping centers many big box stores are looking to get into big cities, often with smaller format stores.

Meanwhile, the underlying issue continues to be secular decline in the demand for brick-and-mortar retail."

The term "big box" is synonymous with a certain sort of suburban design often called, for lack of a better word, sprawl.  But lately the retailers behind the big box have started moving inward to the city.  There, new design forms are taking shape.  The big box is adapting to urban life in interesting ways.

About a year ago Walmart, often the quintessential big box retailer, opened a store in the city of Chicago.  Called a Walmart express, it is a more compact version of a big box.  Target's loop location is not the first urban target to hit Chicago.  There is one on Roosevelt that has a different design than the usual Target.  Not a remodeled old building, but new whole cloth.

This building has many traditional urban form factors.  It is built next to the street.  No front parking.  It is multi-story (I believe it is a three story Target).  The parking it does have is a parking garage contained within the building itself.  The layout is a bit unusual because this section of Roosevelt bridges the river and is therefore above ground level "street grade".

Whether this is part of a long term trend of retailers to adapt to changing demographics or a short term trend in a dying industry is one that will reveal itself in time.

My own snapshot this afternoon, unfortunately I did not have time to go inside.

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