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Urban big boxes are becoming common

A few years ago the idea of a pedestrian friendly big box store was almost unthinkable, but the idea is catching on, with several examples locally and around the country.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In this region, the Columbia Heights Target is an obvious example, but not the only one. We also have the Tenleytown Best Buy, and of course, the proposed downtown Wal-Mart. In the suburbs, Gaithersburg's new urbanist "Washingtonian Center" was an urban big box trail-blazer. Designed and built in the late 1990s, it features what may have been the country's first pedestrian oriented Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, and Kohl's.

Below the fold there are pictures of several other examples from around the country, including a Home Depot in Chicago that puts DC's to shame.

Home Depot, Halsted Street, Chicago. Photo by dmitrybarsky.

Home Depot, Halsted Street, Chicago. Photo by Payton Chung.

Target, Nicollet Street, Minneapolis. Photo by DesertDevil.

Target, Broadway, Chicago. Photo by Chicago Tribune.

Best Buy, Lockwood Place, Baltimore. Photo by Joe Architect.

Best Buy, Clark Street, Chicago. Photo by VivaLFuego.

Proposed Target, East Liberty, Pittsburgh. Photo by City of Pittsburgh.

Proposed Target, 4th and Mission Streets, San Francisco. Photo by SF Redevelopment Agency.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Why is Washingtonian Center in quotation marks?

by dan reed! on Jun 9, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

You're forgetting the two stores in New York. The Brooklyn store puts every other one of these to shame:

It's co-located with a Chuck E Cheese! That's amazing. The biggest problem with it is much like the situation in Columbia Heights: it's too easy to get to (subway, buses along Atlantic and Flatbush Ave, pedestrians) and too many people shop there.

But then there's the new Harlem store, which is huge but is not located near the subway and instead has a parking garage (that's nearly the same size as the store itself) that only serves people coming off the FDR.

by Adam L on Jun 9, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

A couple blocks away from that Home Depot, which is in Lincoln Park, is a very cool Sunrise Senior Living/Best Buy combination.

by Jay Rickey on Jun 9, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

Once upon a time in an age and land before malls there were department stores. These existed in downtown villages and were accessible by public transportation. Most until mid century were even locally owned. Because the street was lively, they had show windows, and even competed with one another through the medium of their display. Many set on full city blocks. They had entries mid block on all faces, or on all corners. Even the upper floors had glazed openings called windows. What a great typology for a big box in an urban setting.

by John Swift on Jun 9, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Jay Rickey - I recently interviewed a retail industry analyst who said the only people shopping at Best Buy are over 40. I thought he was exaggerating. But maybe not!

by TJ on Jun 9, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

@John Swift - That was exactly my first reaction too. These aren't big box stores, they are department stores, or just large stores. Anyone know how big the old Woodies was down town when it was full sized? What about the current Macy's? I've got to believe both are bigger then the Target (not the whole development, just Target). No one would ever claim that either Whole Foods is a "big box store" even though I bet both are larger in square footage than either Best Buy.

by DAJ on Jun 9, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

Not unthinkable... Europe & Asia have been doing it for ages. Indeed, Wal*Mart and its offshoots have been doing the urban thing for quite a number of years now.

There are some which don't even have to compromise their big box style: I've been to stores which take up all the basements of a block; or I've been to others which are a conventional store albeit with local businesses built into the storefront... in both cases you don't realise they're big box until you walk to the other side of the entry (of which there are often several along each block's side).

by Bossi on Jun 9, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

I think the most killer Home Depot is the one in Manhattan on 23rd St between 5th and 6th Avenues (,-73.989766&sspn=0.011625,0.01899&ie=UTF8&t=h&rq=1&ev=zi&radius=0.6&split=1&filter=0&hq=home+depot+23rd+st&hnear=&ll=40.742282,-73.991354&spn=0,0.01899&z=16&layer=c&cbll=40.742217,-73.99118&panoid=8O5jN1c5yNOKcX9lv-hTAQ&cbp=12,202.3,,0,-6.85). That said, just be careful not to build too much parking. Lots for both the Marble Hill and Bronx Terminal Market big box outdoor "malls" were overbuilt, and now they can't fill the space giving it away. I think DCUSA had the same problem, yeah?

by Matt on Jun 9, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

The Best Buy near the inner harbor in Baltimore is a good example also.

@Matt I think Home Depot is the one place that NEEDS parking. There is a lot of stuff I'm going to Home Depot for that I don't want to carry home.

by Doug on Jun 9, 2011 4:49 pm • linkreport

Department stores/big box stores should have parking, even downtown, but not too much. There's a careful balance to be had.

Although I do wish the new generation of department stores were a bit classier, the comparison, to me, means it bodes well for the marriage of urban forms and suburban stores.

by OctaviusIII on Jun 9, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

Nitpicking, but the Target in downtown Minneapolis is on a section of Nicollet *Avenue* called Nicollet *Mall*. Nicollet Mall is a pretty decent pedestrian/transit mall, though it's lined by 30-50 story buildings and is anchored at its south end by Orchestra Hall. I'll also echo previous commenters in noting that the Macy's on Nicollet Mall (formerly Dayton's) is an old style downtown department store with 8 floors plus a basement and is FAR bigger than the Target Store just south of it.

by David T on Jun 9, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

There's the Bed Bath & Beyond in Chinatown, too.

by Jennifer on Jun 9, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

Doug - you'd be surprised by how handy a Home Depot becomes when you can walk to it. When I lived in that neighborhood, I hated the idea of a Home Depot coming to that location. But once it was there, I found myself walking there regularly.

One other point - I didn't mean to imply that the Best Buy / Sunrise Senior Living combo was a big box - it is not. Rather, I was pointing out how one retailer conformed to the community.

by @JayRickey on Jun 9, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

Don't get me wrong I love Home Depot and it would be great to have one close by. I just would like somewhere to park a truck if I needed to get say a new toilet or something. It could even be underground parking with a freight elevator or something.

by Doug on Jun 9, 2011 5:18 pm • linkreport

In its later years, the downtown flagship Woodies store had about 500,000 sq. feet of selling space on 9 levels and the current downtown Macy's (former Hecht Company at Metro Center) has about 250,000 sq. feet on five levels.

by GWalum on Jun 9, 2011 5:50 pm • linkreport

The old Woodies downtown covered an entire city block plus half of another. Both 5 floors high.

The old Hecht Co. at 7th and F was almost almost as big.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 9, 2011 7:03 pm • linkreport

One of the best examples of combining several big box stores on a small plot of land is University Square in the suburbs of Cleveland. It has freestanding retail--banks and restaurants--along the streets, and just behind those buildings is a five-story complex that combines a parking garage with huge-box stores including a two-story Macy's, a two-story Target, a full-size Tops grocery store (until it closed), TJ Maxx, and some others. It would probably be difficult to amass enough land in a heavily urban area, but this kind of semi-urban development would be a welcome replacement for the mobbed, aging shopping areas at Bailey's Crossroads or Seven Corners.

by Rob on Jun 9, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

It's been said by others, but I don't think Best Buy belongs in the same big box category as Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco,... Those are truly behemoths that are larger than the typical grocery store.

To me Best Buy is no bigger than the Bed Bath & Beyond we've had for awhile at Gallery Place. Nor is it even bigger than the Forever 21 at Metro Center or some of the Borders bookstores.

by Paul S on Jun 9, 2011 8:32 pm • linkreport


Just have anything large delivered. Same day, anywhere in Manhattan for 15 bucks, if I recall correctly. Way cheaper than owning a car.

by Matt on Jun 9, 2011 11:01 pm • linkreport

Wasn't the Macy's of NYC 100 years ago not considered big box stores? Pedestrian friendly is all about the architecture and nothing about the tenants. Break down the box, be it a low end retailer or an office building, with scale, massing, and detail, in any style, and you're good to go. Blowing out local retailers is another matter. That's where you gotta kill'em on service.

by Thayer-D on Jun 10, 2011 6:25 am • linkreport

Speaking of big boxes, thanks to the Pentagon City metro station I've even done the pedestrian Costco trip a few times - it doesn't get much bigger or boxier and it was a breeze.

by Chris Adams on Jun 10, 2011 8:44 am • linkreport

Pedestrian experiences are enhanced by having lots of different amenity options available along the street.

The Target in Columbia Heights more or less achieves this because it's on the 2nd and 3rd floors, but some of the photos above seem to be of stores taking over huge swaths of the streetfront. That greatly limits pedestian options; to get to the next store, you have to walk an entire block, so everything just got further away.

Although that is much better than the typical parking lot surrounded store, I hope companies implement even more pedestrian friendly designs in the future.

by Tim H on Jun 10, 2011 10:29 am • linkreport

Minor nitpick: It's Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, not street.

by Froggie on Jun 11, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

What about the Home Depot in NYC at 59th & 3rd Ave? No parking at all, if my memory serves me correctly. The entire store is located below street-level

Someone mentioned the other Home Depot on 23rd btw 5th & 6th, but NYC also has the following:
-TJ Maxx/Bed Bath & Beyond/ Filene's Basement combo:

-Lots of Best Buys w/ no parking:
Broadway & Houston, Union Square, 23rd St, 44th & 5th, Columbus Circle, 86th & lexington, etc.

-IKEA, which has a large amount of surface parking, but also was forced to have extensive transit improvements, including shuttle buses, ferry service, and bus route extensions.

At some point, 'big box' becomes hard to define, as many older cities simply have large stores. There are tons of examples of this in NYC with no parking, as others have mentioned, Macy's being the prime example, but there are many, many others, including several very large supermarkets, electronics stores, and furniture stores. Some of the big chains are starting to follow this model in NYC.

by Jacob on Jun 12, 2011 8:54 am • linkreport

I wish I had a picture of it, but North Hills in Raleigh,NC has what should be a walkable Target, a walkable JC Penney and a walkable Harris Teeter, if it weren't Raleigh and there wasn't a need for surface parking. However, what little parking is there is burried underground and there's lots of housing and even some office in walking distance. I used to work and I would walk the complex. This was also a mall retrofit.

by Kristen on Jun 12, 2011 6:51 pm • linkreport

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