Abandoned Wal-Marts that become schools and churches.

Abandoned Wal-Marts that become schools and churches.

What we build.
Nov. 19 2008 7:06 AM

For Sale: 200,000-Square-Foot Box

What happens to the store when Wal-Mart leaves town?

Click here to lauch a slide show on big-box reuse.

Big-box buildings are the large, free-standing, warehouselike structures that have become dominant in the American landscape, constructed by one-stop-shopping retailers, grocers, and category-killers. Hundreds of new big-box buildings are built each year—and hundreds are vacated. In a healthy economy, retailers often leave behind one store to build an even bigger one nearby. In tough times, weaker chains are forced to close stores. Circuit City recently announced it will close 155 stores before the holiday season. What happens to big-box buildings when a retailer abandons them?

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren't many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it's not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools—even churches.

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Click here to read a slide-show essay on how to recycle a big-box store.

Julia Christensen is the author of Big Box Reuse. She is the Luce visiting assistant professor of the emerging arts at Oberlin College and Conservatory.

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