As of February 1, 2002, Wal-Mart had 3,190 stores in the United States, including discount stores, supercenters, warehouse clubs, and neighborhood markets. But that’s not the whole inventory. They also are carrying 396 empty stores, which means that 11% of their total store inventory are empty. This so-called “empty box syndrome”: has started to catch the attention of the media. As noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, in the 9 county Philadelphia region, there is now 4.5 million square feet of empty big box stores. “These one-time tax generators have become boarded-up shells,” the Inquirer wrote, “eyesores that attract vagrants and vandals…Empty big boxes signify lost tax base, lost jobs, and valuable land sitting dormant.” According to Sprawl-Busters research, Wal-Mart alone is literally sitting on an astounding 32.5 million square feet of empty buildings. Of the 396 empty hulks now on the market, 82 of them (21%) came on the market within the past six months, 159 (40%) have been on the market between 6 months and 3 years, and 154 empty Wal-Mart stores (39%) have been on the list for 3 years or longer. This proliferation of empty stores has gotten worse since our last survey three years ago. In February of 1999, Wal-Mart had 333 empty buildings in 31 states, for a total of 21.3 million square feet. Today, Wal-Mart has dead stores in 35 states, and the total number of units vacated has risen by 19%. Nearly four out of 10 stores on the list today were on the list three years ago. Of the 314 buildings that have been on the market more than 6 months, 154 of them (49%) have been “aging in place” for at least three years. Nearly one in three stores (31%) are over 100,000 s.f., and, as in the past, 8 out of ten stores (319) are leased, and only 77 (19%) are owned by Wal-Mart. Fifteen states now have 10 or more empty Wal-Marts. The states with the highest number of dead stores are as follows: Texas, 45; Georgia, 34; Florida and Tennessee, 27 each; Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama, 18; Kentucky, 16; Indiana and North Carolina, 15; Arkansas and Oklahoma, 14; Missouri, 13; Illinois, 12; Though still largely a southern phenomenon, the empty box syndrome is crawling north and west. The Wal-Mart list now contains 2 dead stores in Connecticut, 3 in Maine, 3 in Minnesota, 1 in New York and Nevada, and 8 in Utah. These “eyesores” are on display from Maine to California, and they’re coming soon to a Wal-Mart near you. The company blames you and me — the consumer — for wanting “wider aisles”. But what we get, instead, is a remarkable waste of land and superfluous new buildings. Wal-Mart has called them “once-occupied stores”, but to the rest of us, it’s just retail blight.
For more on the subject of empty boxes, search this database by the word “empty”. For our report on empty Wal-Mart stores in February, 2002, with a state by state listing, send $5 to “Al Norman” and mail it to: Sprawl-Busters, 21 Grinnell St, Greenfield, MA 01301 to cover copying and handling.