Sprawl-Busters has done its third annual scan of “available” Wal-Mart buildings, The unused buildings have been called the “empty box syndrome” by the media, and we have been tracking this trend since 1999. As of February, 2003, Wal-Mart has 325 buildings for sale or lease in 36 states. A total of 28,172,648 s.f. of stores are up for grabs. Imagine 587 football fields laid end to end, and you will have a sense of how much empty space Wal-Mart has under lock and key. Of these dark stores (Wal-Mart’s term) 80% (260 stores) have been on the market for at least a year or longer. 36% of these stores (118) stopped selling merchandise 4 years ago or longer, since we first started monitoring empty stores in February of 1999. The top ten states with dead Wal-Marts this year are: 1) Texas (44). 2) Georgia (28). 3) Florida (20). 4) Illinois, South Carolina and Tennessee tied (16 each). 5) Alabama (15). 6) Indiana and North Carolina, (14 each). 7) Michigan (13). 8) Arkansas and Oklahoma (12 each). 9) Iowa and Missouri (11 each). 10) Kentucky and Louisiana (10 each). 30% of these dark stores (97) are over 100,000 square feet in size. Last year at this time, Wal-Mart had 396 empty stores, and 32.5 million s.f. of empty boxes. Although Wal-Mart’s inventory of dead stores has dropped compared to a year ago, the available buildings contain one-third properties that are just not going anywhere, and had been around since at least 1999, possibly quite a bit longer. Wal-Mart has the largest inventory of dark stores of any operating retailer in the history of the United States.
If your state is accumulating dead big box stores, it’s time to ask local officials to consider requiring developers to post a demolition bond for stores which are allowed to sit empty more than 24 months. Such a change should be written into your zoning code so developers know up front what the rules are (search this database by “Buckingham” for a related story.) Another strategy is to limit the size of stores in outlying commericial zones, such as 60,000 s.f.. so these huge stores never get built in the first place. For every three Wal-Mart stores that will go dark, one of them is likely to stay dark for at least four years. This can harm surrounding properties, and lead to blight, and costly public remedies. Better to get the developer to protect your town upfront, than to deal with the razing long after the leasee is gone. For a complete state by state list of empty Wal-Marts, with notations for which stores have aged 1 year, and which 4 years, send $7 to: Dark Stores List, 21 Grinnell St. Greenfield, MA 01301. Make check payable to Al Norman. Got a favorite dead box near you? Send us a photo to the address above.