Big Boxes Flock Together

MLewyn's picture

Some planners seek to discourage big box stores, on the theory that such stores are incipient monopolists that crush all competition.  (In particular, Wal-Mart seems to strike fear in the hearts of many).

But a new study, by University of Pennsylvania student Ken Steif, suggests that big boxes actually attract competition.  The study (discussed here) concludes that if people are willing to travel long distances to reach a type of store, such stores tend to locate next to each other- for example, gem stores in New York's "Diamond District."    In particular, it notes a strong correlation between Wal-Marts and Targets, suggesting that when a Wal-Mart opens up a Target is rarely far behind (and vice versa).

Is this a good thing or a bad thing from an urbanist perspective? On the one hand, it means monopoly-phobia is unjustified.  On the other hand, if your town's "big box district" is in an unwalkable suburban area, this is not good news for walkability or for other retail districts.  So perhaps a city should try to tame big boxes by encouraging them to locate closer to downtown or in more walkable areas (admittedly, something easier said than done!)

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