Many cities and towns across the country have been forced to confront the issue: what do you do with a huge, empty Wal-Mart? For some communities, the answer has been to tear down the store, or find some marginal reuse — often unrelated to retailing.
In most cases, the reuse after Wal-Mart is gone produces much less revenue than a giant retailer, and in some cases, the store goes off the tax rolls entirely, as in the case of towns who turn dead Wal-Mart’s into municipal offices.
Three entrepreneurs in Cincinnati, Ohio are trying to deconstruct Wal-Mart by converting a dead big box discount store into a collection of hundreds of small peddlars. In effect, the plan is to use the carcass of the dead Wal-Mart to create a colony of thriving smaller stores.
At any point in time, Wal-Mart Realty is offering for sale or rent close to 200 dead stores in America, which Wal-Mart prefers to call ‘dark stores.’
It’s not hard to find such dead stores in Ohio, where there are currently 12 empty Wal-Marts. One of those empty stores is at 3430 Highland Avenue, a discount store with 125,379s.f. on 14 acres of land.
This store was originally proposed to the city in 1994, as part of a package deal that included a 109,800 s.f. Builder’s Square — a home improvement store which later went out of business. The Builder’s Square space is now occupied by Home Depot. Wal-Mart store # V2250 was closed down when the giant retailer built a superstore nearby. Cincinnati today has 4 Wal-Mart stores: two discount stores, and two supercenters.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, three businessmen from Louisville, Kentucky plan to open a “massive alternative shopping outlet” in a matter of weeks. The new outlet is for small retailers who want to move into the cavernous empty Wal-Mart on Highland Avenue. Entrepreneur Mike Stinson told the Enquirer that the dead Wal-Mart is going to be reused as a Peddlers Mart, and the plan is to rent “booth space” to as many as 550 small, independent retailers — the kind that Wal-Mart displaces normally.
Stinson says that he is almost halfway towards that goal, having commitments from more than 200 merchants who have signed leases averaging 100 s.f.
But if that’s the extent of the Peddlar’s Mart, only 20,000 s.f. out of 125,378 s.f. has been rented, leaving roughly 84% of the interior space unfilled. Stinson told the Enquirer that he has retailers who will be selling “everything from Persian rugs to appliances to cereal.” The rent is cheap: $2 per square foot. Unlike some flea markets, Peddlar’s Mart tags all the items, so the vendors themselves are not even in the store selling their wares.
For example, a company called Scrubs Direct wants to sell nursing scrubs and medical uniforms at the outlet to augment its sales at ScrubsDirect.com. “We’re excited about it,” says the owner of Scrubs Direct, “because of the new market we’ll be entering and the affordable lease rates.”
According to the Peddlars.com website, “Peddlers Mart is the perfect place for the antique dealer, flea market vendor, collector, or consignor to sell their merchandise to thousands of potential shoppers every week. We provide Class A retail space for our merchants in a clean and conveniently located 125,000 square foot superstore. Best of all, you don’t have to work your booth everyday. We sell for you while you are away.
“Unlike large retail centers or department store anchored malls, Peddlers Mart offers an open-environment, multi-merchant ‘Main Street’ atmosphere featuring a lively mix of shopping experiences.”
“Peddlers Mart is looking for merchants who offer exciting and unique products. We are the leader in the new area of Micro-Retailing. It’s no longer an environment just for antique malls and flea markets. Peddlers Mart is a unique retail alternative to traditional shopping experiences. Unlike large retail centers or department stores, Peddlers Mart offers an open environment that includes a variety of merchants creating a lively mix of shopping. Peddlers Mart is the perfect place to generate income. Your space at the Peddlers Mart will generate sales and provide advertising for your company at a very economical price. Our year around advertising brings the shoppers to you. The best part is that we are open 7 days a week and supply the staff. We sell your merchandise while you are away.”
“Retailers, Wholesalers, Crafters, Antique Dealers, Service Companies and Contractors alike make up a marketplace like no other in our area. The unique concept of Peddlers Mart is a combination of in-line stores, permanent booths, farmers market, garden center and caf?? coffee shops.”
When the Enquirer article about recycling the dead Wal-Mart appeared, one of the Peddlar’s Mart merchants wrote a short comment online: “I signed up with Peddlers Mart a few weeks ago and I have been impressed with their CoRetailing concept. Small independent retailers like me can open a second location at Peddlers Mart and not have to work the store every day. I simply send my staff over once or twice a week to restock. It’s much better than a weekend flea market because they are open daily and they have a lot of upscale retailers in there so I don’t have to worry about my merchandise being next to a bunch of junk. I went in there in Friday and it was like Grand Central station, and they haven’t even opened yet. They open August 1st. One of the owners told me they looked at over 100 locations around the country, and the Highland Avenue location was the top choice because of the population, ease of access to I-71, and the fact that a very busy Home Depot is right next door. Great concept for Cincinnati. Can’t wait to start making money at it. They said in the future Peddlers.com will allow me to sell as well.”
But another commenter had a dimmer view of the odds that this peddlar’s row will survive. “A bunch of specialty shops think they are going to make it at a location where Wal-Mart could not? Good luck.”
There is a vast difference between a huge Wal-Mart discount store, and a 20,000 s.f. Peddlar’s Mart. It appears that Wal-Mart is merely leasing the property to Peddlar’s Mart until a buyer comes along. The Highland Avenue site is still being listed by Wal-Mart Realty, and has not taken off the company’s website of available properties.
Even if Peddler’s Mart manages to fill twice the space it has currently, the city of Cincinnati and the state of Ohio is going to see a steep drop in sales taxes compared to when the use was a Wal-Mart discount store, and loss in property valuation, since much of the selling space is likely to remain empty.
The irony is that this store did not have to be abandoned by Wal-Mart in the first place. City planners in Cincinnati could have rejected Wal-Mart’s proposal for leap-frog development, where the company opens a new store and shuts down an existing store.
The Highland Avenue Wal-Mart was only built in 1995, and could have undergone an “inbox conversion” to a superstore, without any permitting or hearings. Instead of leaving a building empty on 14 acres of land, Wal-Mart could have redesigned the interior of its store.
But the company chose to waste more land to build a bigger store nearby. This is part of the unsustainable practices of this environmentally profligate company.
Readers are urged to email Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Mallory, Why did the city allow Wal-Mart to shut down a store only 15 years old on Highland Avenue? There was no need to close this store, just so they could build a bigger store a few minutes away. This is environmentally wasteful, and it left the city with a huge empty box on your hands. The plans by Peddlars Mart seem marginal at best, with almost 90% of the store’s interior space not yet rented.
The conversion of a large store from retailer to peddlers is a real economic step down for the city. Sales and property taxes will fall, appraised value will fall, and the Peddlars Market could end up closing too.
Wal-Mart should have been told to reformat its Highland Avenue store into a superstore, rather than building a new store for the same purpose. These kinds of “inbox conversions” have been done in a number of locations across the country, including several in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Instead, you’ve created more sprawl, lost revenues at that location, and helped Wal-Mart to grow its market share at the expense of local businesses. This is why Ohio has 12 dead Wal-Marts today. None of those stores had exhausted their value as a building — Wal-Mart just has one of the most unsustainable, anti-environmental growth strategies in the history of retailing. The Cincinnati City Council has enabled them to leave another building behind — for the peddlers to try to pick up the pieces.”