The current economic downturn and the corresponding contraction of the retail sector have resulted in a glut of vacant “big-box” retail stores in shopping centers across the country. Vacant big-box spaces pose special challenges for landlords and communities. While the number of vacant big-box spaces is daunting, there are glimmers of hope as landlords and communities have become increasingly creative in their re-adaptive uses of these dark spaces. For creative landlords who are willing to invest in redesigning and redeveloping vacant big-box spaces, big boxes can provide opportunities for both landlords and communities.
Across the U.S., vacant big-box spaces have been successfully retrofitted for use by nonretail users such as churches, schools, colleges, medical and dental facilities, libraries, office and municipal tenants, health clubs, and other tenants who require large parking areas. Because traditional retail tenants are not available to fill vacant big-box spaces, Landlords should strongly consider non-traditional tenants for re-adaptive uses of vacant big-box spaces because they fill up highly visible vacant spaces (and community eye sores); they tend to be long-term, stable, credit tenants who may invest up-front in infrastructure improvements; and they are often well received by the community because of the benefits they provide.
Vacant big-box spaces also have been redesigned as antique malls where multiple rent-paying vendors operate from individual booths within the mall. To avoid a flea market atmosphere, landlords implement strict rules governing individual displays, merchandise, continuity of use and cohesion of space, marketing, and hours of operation. Individual vendors who do not comply with the rules are asked to leave.
Other non-traditional retail concepts for vacant big-box spaces include farmer’s markets and car dealerships. Weekend farmer’s markets have been established in parking lots of vacant big boxes with great success. Creative landlords are even contemplating expanding the farmer’s market concept to the interior space of the vacant big boxes during colder months.
Landlords across the country are working creatively and in tandem with local communities to redesign and redevelop empty big-box spaces for use by non-traditional tenants who offer investment, stability, continuity, and benefits to owners and community residents alike.