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New Fairfax Walmart: The Beginning of the Next Generation Big Box

Big box retailers are looking to expand into more urban areas with smaller stores. The Fairfax store is the first of several planned in the DC region in the next few years.

On October 12, a just outside of the city boundary to surprisingly little media coverage considering that could be introducing the next trend in retail development to the DC region.

For the past 20 years, big box stores have scouted massive swaths of land at the fringe of suburbs and small towns, competing with one another by building bigger and bigger stores. With the current economic downturn along with the fact that the ideal big box site is becoming scarce, these retailers have had to re-examine their strategy.

The result is stores with smaller footprints, more community serving goods, and a focus on sites in cities and older suburbs. The 90,000 square foot store next to Bloom is the first of these formats in the DC area. Sizes for WalMart Super Centers range from 150,000 to over 200,000 square feet. Other smaller WalMart stores are planned in Chantilly, Tysons Corner, Shirlington, and of course the four sites in DC that have been the center of many debates.

In other areas of the country, WalMart is opening even smaller “Neighborhood Markets” with footprints of 40,000 square feet or less. The company also plans to blanket the country with drug store sized “Express WalMarts”, with as many as 350 new stores per year beginning in 2012.

Earlier this year, Target opened the first “CityTarget” store in Chicago. These stores are similar in size to the new Fairfax WalMart and carry a similar mix of groceries and general merchandise. Other “smaller” big box stores, such as Best Buy, Old Navy, and Sports Authority are also looking at smaller format stores.

With smaller footprints comes a smaller trade area of just a 2-3 mile radius. This puts Fairfax City in a prime location to fill the void between Tysons Corner and Fair Lakes. Though this could be an economic boon for the city as well as an added convenience, it could stand in the way of any effort to turn our aging strip centers into more pleasant and walkable places. 

Luckily, many retailers have already learned that the best marketing strategy isn’t necessarily to build a sterile box behind a sea of parking and have already been locating in more pedestrian friendly contexts. Still, we should be ready demand that any new retailers in the city adhere to design guidelines that enhance the pedestrian environment and protect the city’s character.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Douglas Stewart October 19, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Is the store in Fairfax City? I had thought it was actually situated right across the border in the county.
Paul Nabti October 21, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Hey Douglas. Yes it is right outside the city boundary, but everyone seems to be calling it the "Fairfax City WalMart" probably to distinguish it from Fair Lakes.
Douglas Stewart October 22, 2011 at 02:06 AM
It's a tough situation with the city getting the cut-through traffic and none of the tax dollars.

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