“The dirty little secret of big box development – and it’s really not a secret – is that the buildings are designed to be abandoned.”


It’s Big Box Week at Strong Towns, while here in Southern Indiana, it’s Big Box Week every week of the year.

Big Box Week, by Charles Marohn (Strong Towns)

… This all serves to illuminate the fact that big box development is extremely risky. We, the taxpayers, put a pipe in the ground in our name and we’ve made an eternal promise that generation after generation is expected to make good on. The big box retailer builds a store and they’ve recouped their capital costs in a decade. They are then free and clear to move on leaving us with a dead site.

Their zealous obligation is to their shareholders. I can respect that, but our obligation to our taxpayers – today’s and tomorrow’s – needs to be equally zealous.

This week we’re going to focus on big box stores. We’re going to look at their relatively low financial productivity combined with their high risk. We will examine sites that have failed and sites that have been reclaimed. We’ll delve a little into what is known as “sprawl retrofit” (their term, not mine) and take some time to look at the good and bad of urban big box stores. I also want to examine state subsidies for big box stores and how state governments have created – for their own financial benefit – a race to the bottom for municipalities.