Tiffin, Ohio is a community of 17,347 people. The town has been losing population for at least the past twenty years. The community has a Wal-Mart supercenter on West State Route 18, plus 4 other Wal-Mart supercenters within 22 miles. When the supercenter opened, the Wal-Mart discount store in Tiffin closed. The 94,860 s.f. dead Wal-Mart discount store is on West Market Street. The store appears to have been abandoned in 2006, but today it’s not even listed among the 14 dead Wal-Mart stores now up for lease or sale in Ohio. Wal-Mart currently has 1,098,672 s.f. of “dark stores” in Ohio. That’s the equivalent of nearly 22.5 football fields of abandoned space. But the Advertiser-Tribune reports this week that the dead Wal-Mart in Tiffin may soon be “upcycled.” The empty building has attracted the attention of a commercial developer called U.S. Properties Group (USPG). The empty building is actually owned by Chicago-based Inland Real Estate Group. The real estate company expects the deal to go through within the next two months. The reported closing price to USPG for the building is $1.7 million. The town has been negotiating with the Real Estate Group to have land donated to the town for the construction of a road that will run between two abandoned stores: the site where an Ames was vacated in the late 1990s, and the “former” Wal-Mart building. The new road will connect US 224 and West Market Street. When USPG takes over the empty Wal-Mart, they will either rehab it for a new tenant, or destroy it. According to the Advertiser-Tribune, USPG has a process of redeveloping abandoned buildings and marketing them to other retailers, like Kohl’s, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, and Best Buy. The company uses the term “upcycling” to describe what it does to “old” Wal-Mart buildings. Four of the empty Wal-Marts in Ohio are over 100,000 s.f. and are not much more than 10 years old. Many have been on the market for several years. “We’re trying to bring new life to old property,” USPG explains. The new owner of the building says it is environmentally conscious, reusing and recycling what it can. But sometimes USPG has to tear buildings down. In one case the company cited in Wisconsin, USPG recycled more than 94% of the building materials — even grinding up demolished cement blocks to use in the foundation for a new building. The company estimates that 50 to 70% of the debris from an old Wal-Mart can end up being buried in a landfill. In Tiffin’s case, USPG hopes to find a new tenant, but the search process could take a year or two. First the company has to assess what will need to be done to rehab and remodel the Wal-Mart building.
So a new industry has arisen from the ashes of dead Wal-Mart stores. USPG was created five years ago and is based in Gahanna, a suburb of Columbus. They own property in 10 states. Wal-Mart was paying a lease on the Tiffin property through the end of January, but most Wal-Mart leases are based on a very low base rent, plus a percentage of sales. Since an empty store generates no sales, Inland Real Estate Group has been getting little rent out of Wal-Mart for over a year. How much Inland paid for the land to begin with was not disclosed. The fact that there is a market for “upcycling” dead Wal-Marts begs the question about why there are so many dead Wal-Marts to begin with? After beefing up the staffing of Wal-Mart Realty, Wal-Mart has reduced its inventory of empty buildings by nearly a third, going from 300+ “dark stores” at any given point in time, to roughly 195 today. But the only reason these stores are on the market is because Wa-Mart decided in the early 1990s to beging phasing out its discount stores, which reached a high of some 2,000 stores by 1995. This decision was completely profit-driven, because superstores can generate two to three times the profit of a discount store. As it proceeded with its supercenter expansion plans, the retailer had to simultaneously begin the process of abandoning 2,000 “old” stores, most of which were less than 15 years old. Considering the fact that most of these properties sit on at least 30 acres of land, this means that Wal-Mart has paved over at least 60,000 acres of land for a short-term business venture that has left all that land covered with asphalt and concrete. So many stores have been cast off, that people are making a living grinding them down into recylables. Wal-Mart has proven itself to be the most profligate, wasteful retailer in the world’s history. No other retailer anywhere on the planet has exploited open space in the shallow pursuit of gaining more market share. Tiffin, Ohio may see their empty Wal-Mart reused, or it may just be torn down, But still standing are the other area businesses that went under during the Wal-Mart expansion, such as the Ames store that is still empty in Tiffin. All this changing of buildings is not a form of economic development, its just retail musical chairs, and can rightly be described as growth with no economic calories.