What is "big box" retail?
The phrase "big box" has become the most widely used adjective describing this category of retail store, and we use it throughout this site because we think it has become a valueneutral term. Other names include "superstores," "value centers," "discount chains" and "large format stores". Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco are some of the largest companies with stores in this category. Typical characteristics include the following:
- Retail stores selling a variety of goods and services, usually including clothing, consumer goods, and groceries
- High-volume, high-efficiency business model that emphasizes low prices on everyday consumer needs
- Corporate ownership and nationwide chain presence.
- Buildings of at least 50,000 square feet, ranging up to more than 200,000 square feet.
- Mostly windowless, roughly rectangular, usually single-story buildings
- Standardized formats used by most or all stores in the chain
- Large, free, usually outdoor parking lots
What's the issue?
There is strong evidence that big box retail stores affect the economy, environment, and character of their local communities and surroundings. Impacts that are generally considered positive include one-stop shopping, extended hours, free parking, lower prices, jobs for people who work in the stores, and tax revenues for the local community. Impacts that often raise concern include driving local merchants and "main street" retailers out of business, traffic, costs to the municipality, the adverse environmental impacts of large parking lots and driving long distances, low wages and benefits for store workers, and loss or lack of local character and sense of community.
On this site, we try to provide you with more information about these issues: the questions, the facts, and - most importantly - a framework for you to draw your own conclusions based on your own judgments, your own values, and your own opinions.
Whose side are we on?
If you are from a community that is facing decisions about big box retail, we're on your side. We're neither for nor against big box retail per se. We have developed this site in keeping with our non-profit foundation's goal of promoting informed, collaborative decisions about land-use planning. Who we are.
We recognize that with important issues like big box retail, a community needs to make its own choices. Part of your decision can be based on objective facts, but part of it will depend upon your own values and your own vision for the future of your community. This site is intended to help you think about and analyze the big picture: facts as well as judgments; statistics as well as feelings. Our hope is that it will help you feel confident and informed when you make your own decisions about big box retail in your community.