"big box" retail?
¡¤ Typically occupy more than 50,000 square feet, with
typical ranges between 90,000-200,000 sq. ft.
¡¤ Derive their profits from high sales volumes rather
than price mark up
¡¤ Large windowless, rectangular single-story buildings
¡¤ Standardized facades
¡¤ Reliance on auto-borne shoppers
¡¤ Acres of parking
¡¤ No-frills site development that eschews any community
or pedestrian amenities.
¡¤ Seem to be everywhere and unique to no place, be
it a rural town or urban neighborhood
¡¤ Varying market niches; categories include discount
departmetn stores, category killers and warehouse clubs. IKEA seems
to be a combination of the first two classifications.
¡¤ Profound planning impacts on the character of a
What benefits are achieved by "big box" developments?
¡¤ Offer low prices and great convenience for an increasingly
¡¤ Localities economies from sales tax revenues to
finance local services
What are the relevant
issues and concerns ?
¡¤ Big vs. small businesses, i.e. "category killers"
¡¤ Long Term development impacts
¡¤ Quality and Image - quality begets quality
¡¤ Future marketability - When/if the store is closed,
will a standardized big-box shell and parking lot be a long-term
eyesore in the neighborhood?
Based on past big box experience, what built aspects can we consider
in alternative planning approaches?
¡¤ Architectural character of the building;
¡¤ Color and material of the primary structure;
¡¤ Relationship to the surrounding community, including
¡¤ Pedestrian flows;
Through good planning
practice, what are achieveable "big box" goals?
¡¤ Proposing a flexible strategy in which IKEA does
not dictate a design indifferent to local identity and interests;
Recognize New Rochelle as a unique place by reflecting on its physical
character and adding to it in appropriate ways.
¡¤ Avoid perpetuating a lower image; you're not going
to be able to bring other quality businesses that will improve the
The terms "value retailers", "superstore," "big
box retailer," and "category killer" are used interchangeably.
For these retailers, size does matter. The retail model depends
on high-volume rather than price markups. To do a profitable volume,
they must occupy large amounts of space. "Typically, they range
in size from 90,000 to 200,000 square feet, are located as often
as possible near highway interchanges or exits, use the same windowless
box store design with several acres of a single-floor layout, and
require vast surface parking." (Grantz, Cities Back from the
Edge, p. 192.) "The definition of "big" is, however,
relative, and must be related to the product category in question.
For the supermarket/grocery sector, a big-box superstore normally
must be in the 50,000 to 100,000 square foot range. For warehouse
operations, such as PriceCostco, big boxes normally contain 120,000
square feet. In contrast, for book retailers, 25,000 to 50,000 square
feet would qualify as a big-box operation. For other specialty retail
categories, for example, eye glasses, a 5,000 square-foot store
would qualify as a "big box." The key point is that "big-box,
category-killer" stores are several times the size of a traditional
outlet in their category." (Center for Study of Commercial
Dean Schwanke of Urban
Land magazine categorizes these retailers (generally referred to
collectively as "superstores") into three subgroups: discount
department stores, category killers, and warehouse clubs. Discount
department stores sell department store merchandise at low prices.
Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target are examples of this type. Category
killers are large specialty (niche) retailers that buy and sell
in huge volumes at low prices. Prices are further reduced by eliminating
middleman charges and dealing directly with product manufacturers.
Examples include Toys R Us, Circuit City, Crown Books, Home Depot,
Sports Authority, and Builders Square. Warehouse clubs are membership
shopping clubs that offer a variety of goods, often including groceries,
electronics, clothing, hardware, and more, at wholesale prices.
Unlike didscount department stores, which may sell as many as 60,000
distinct items, warehouse clubs limit their range to 3,000 to 5,000
items. Sam's Club, Price-Costco, and Pace dominate this industry.
Their stores range in size from 104,000 to 170,000 square feet and
serve markets up to 250,000 people. Conglomerations of superstores
in 250,000 to 750,000 square foot centers are called "power
IKEA seems to be a mix
between a discount department store (household goods) and a category
In Cities Back from the
Edge, Grantz identifies some of the basic operation procedures of
superstores. They have, she says, acquired their affectionate nickname
"category killers" because "[t]hey don't mean to
compete with existing businesses. They mean to kill them off and
monopolize the market." (p. 172) Once the competition is demolished,
the store shifts the product mix, increases prices, and reduces
the staff. She presents the following retail strategy scenario:
are put together for the first few months of operation of a new
store. If a new store is meant to operate with 100 employees, the
"attack" team will contain 150 and will include friendly,
helpful salespeople for the first several months. The first-time
shopper at the store has a positive experience and saves money¡¦at
first. Customers are won early. Local stores close. Some try to
reposition themselves to fit a new market. "Adjust," they
are admonished. They try, without access to Wall Street funding
or helpful politicians. Some succeed. They change their product
mix, emphasize service and specialty goods. Many fail. Some¡¦maybe¡¦remain
in business, but barely. (p. 172-3)
And as the category killer's
smaller competition disappears, the helpful employees also disappear
and prices begin to rise. It is important to note that these disposable
employees are included in the initial job creation estimates, so
the number of long-term jobs is often significantly less than the
developers would have the public and its officials believe.
is another weapon wielded by the category killers. Such "loss
leaders" give the impression of wider price savings. But the
car bound nature of such retailers makes comparison-shopping difficult
and inconvenient, leaving customers at the store manager's mercy.
Another concern associated
with big box development relates to blight and redevelopment projects.
"City governments lost much of their property tax revenue in
1978, when voters enacted Proposition 13, and took another big hit
in the early 1990s, when the state grabbed billions of dollars in
property taxes from local governments to balance its own recession-stricken
budget. Increasingly, cities turned to the local share of the sales
tax as a source of income and began using redevelopment aggressively
to attract and subsidize tax-producing projects, such as "big
box" retailers, auto malls and shopping centers." (Walters,
Cities Playing a Blight Game.) Cities will declare an area to be
"blighted" and slate the area for redevelopment. Many
state redevelopment laws require, however, that funds generated
from such projects be used for low- and moderate-income housing--something
that cities are reluctant to do. The response has been to enact
tougher redevelopment laws, but Dan Walters points out that the
underlying causes of the abuse of redevelopment are a series of
political decisions that have "distorted local government finances...and
we should do something about that, as well."
Labor unions are becoming
opposed to big box development due to the fact that the employees
of such developments are usually not uionized. Unions are especially
concerned about the grocery market because stores such as Target,
Wal-mart and Kmart are beginning to sell groceries. Unions are attempting
to use land use ordinances to control this problem. They want the
ordinances to restrict these businesses.
There are also concerns
surrounding traffic and roads. The increased traffic leads to more
air pollution in an area. The increased traffic volume also leads
to higher taxes in order to maintain the roads. The reliance on
the automobile to get to these stores also promotes an anti-community
feelings--people are less likely to interact with each other in
big box setting than they are in pedestrian-oriented environments.
It is important to note
that the benefits of big box retailing, and the reasons they continue
to be devleped, is that they offer low prices and "great conveniences
for the an increasingly time-deprived society." (Uhlenhuth,
"The Bigger the Better). These stores also offer large sales
tax revenues to local governments in order to finance local services.
In order to find a compromise, some cities are now trying to impose
design guidelines on big box development and to better incorporate
the big box stores into their communities by, for example, making
them more pedestrian-friendly. (Duerksen, Site Planning for Large
Scale Retail Stores).
Addressing the Character
of a Community:
Some cities and towns are worried about the economic impact of big-box
retailers on existing downtown merchants or the sprawl-inducing
impacts on character of such developments. The critical question
for these communities is on what terms should the big boxes be welcomed?
Some communities answered
this question by adopting a higher level of architectural treatment
and regulations to ensure that the superstores relate better to
their environs and neighbors. Many already have regulations addressing
signage and landscaping. I expect this "first-line of defense"
is what is mitigated in the DEIS. Trouble is many of the issues
addressed are only first steps in an effective, long-term program.
Chris Duerksen and Robert Blanchard's APA Report on Belling The
Box: Planning For Large-Scale Retail Stores is a great source on
architectural character, color, relationship to Surrounding community/
Streets, Pedistrian Flows, Parking lots, and past projects. In it
they suggest a number of detailed alternative considered for Fort
Collins, Colorado yet which may be tweeked and applied to various
sites. A sampling of some suggestions are:
(1) Forbid "uninterrupted
length of any facade" in excess of 100 horizontal feet. Facades
greater than 100 feet in length must incorporate recesses and projections
along at least 20% of the length of the facade. Windows, awnings,
and arcades must total at least 60% of the facade length abutting
a public street. (2) Require that smaller retail stores that are
part of a larger principal building have display windows and separate
outside entrances (3) All facades of a building that are visible
from adjoining properties and/or public streets should contribute
to the pleasing scale features of the building and encourage community
integration by featuring characteristics similar to a front facade
(4) no more than 50% of the off-street parking area for the entire
property shall be located between the front facade of the principal
building and the primary abutting street." (http://www.asu.edu/caed/proceedings98/Duerk/duerk.html)
Beaumont, Constance E. How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities.
National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994. (http://www.nthpbooks.org/
Grantz, Roberta Brandes,
with Norman Mintz. Cities Back from the Edge. New York: Preservation
Walters, Dan. "Cities
Playing a Blight Game," September 7, 2000.
Fulton, William. "Big-Box
Regulations Aim to Solve
Bulkeley, William M.
"'Category Killers' Look Vulnerable, Not Deadly," The
Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2000.
"Site Planning for Large-Scale Retail Stores," PASMemo
(APA), April 1996, pg. 1-4. (http://www.asu.edu/caed/proceedings98/Duerk/duerk.html)
Uhlenhuth, Karen. "The
Bigger the Better," ... Sunday, December 4, 1994.