Every February, Sprawl-Busters does a national scan of Wal-Mart’s “dark stores.” These are buildings that Wal-Mart says are avaialble for rent or lease. Like a snake crawling out of its skin, Wal-Mart leaves these stores as a monument to redundant development. As of February, 2004, Wal-Mart Realty is looking to lease or sell a total of 371 buildings, comprising 28,448,240 square feet of buildings, or 653 acres of empty buildings. Each store comes with at least as much parking lot space, so a minimum of 1,306 acres of land covered with impervious surface. Our scan shows that Wal-Mart now has empty stores in 37 states. Roughly half (49.9%) of these buildings, 185 stores, have been on the market for at least 2 years, and 21% (78 stores) have been sitting empty for 5 years or longer. Just about one-third of these buildings, 117 stores (31.5%) are over 100,000 s.f. in size. The state with the most dead stores remains Texas, with 42 empties, totalling 3 million s.f. of non-productive space. Although Wal-Mart says they are able to recycle these stores, the number of buildings on the market has gone up. In February of 1999, when we first started keeping track of this data, Wal-Mart had 333 dead stores in 31 states, and 20.66 million s.f. of empties. The total empty space has risen 38% five years later. The top ten states with empty Wal-Marts are as follows; 1. Texas, 42; 2. Georgia, 31; 3. Tennessee, 24; 4&5. Alabama and Arkansas, 16 each; 6. North Carolina, 15; 7&8. Kentucky, Louisiana, 14 stores; 9& 10. Missouri, Ohio, both with 13. Florida, which was number 3 on the list 5 years ago, is now not in the top ten. Ohio wasn’t in the top ten, and now is on the list. Rising states include California, which had 1 dark store in 1999, but now has a dozen; Michigan which had 1, but now has 11, Pennsylvania which had none, and now has 8 dead stores. 304 of these properties (82%) are listed as stores to lease, only 18% to own.
Wal-Mart says it has simply ‘outgrown’ many of these stores, but more and more communities are finding that empty stores create eyesores, and bring down the value of nearby properties. That’s why some communities are passing ordinances to require developers to post a bond to guarantee the property will be demolished if it remains unoccupied for a length of time. Wal-Mart changes stores as casually as you and I change shoes. They have recently given away a “used” store, and sold another one for one-third its assessed value. Wal-Mart’s letter of intent to lease a store requires the lessee to pledge not to use the premises for a discount store. So much for the free market. For similar stories, search this database by the term “dead stores” or “empty”.