Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Boxed In

Theboxtank is running a feature on the attempt by Wal-Mart to devise some unique urban designs for some of their city stores. This brings to mind Al Smith's famous quote: "No matter how you slice it, it's still bologna." You really need to take a gander at some of the futuristic designs, it reminiscent of Jed Clampett in a tuxedo.

All of which is, at least for us, besides the point. The threat that Wal-Mart creates has little or nothing at all to do with the ugly box store design. And really when you look at some of the photos you have to wonder what this would mean to a site on Pitkin Avenue in East New York, or on on Richmond Valley Road in Tottenville.

What is intriguing about these new multi-level stores is, well, their multi-levels. But this design feature doesn't change the central dynamic of the box store: its dependence on cars and a large parking facility. Will it make any difference for a Wal-Mart in Soho if the parking is below grade?

Of course the union and small business issues aren't altered by the design component either. It reminds us of the attempt by Costco to introduce its "Costco Fresh" concept into the city in the late nineties. No on was fooled in Chelsea by this attempt at repackaging and the Wal-Mart makeover will generate the same kind of skepticism. As always, the real fight will be a site fight, and the nature of the local community will determine the outcome.