Box Store Hell – from the people who brought you YAFULC.

Yeah, so I don’t like ‘urban lifestyle centers’ or Yet Another Fucking Urban Lifestyle Center – YAFULC – but it’s actually one step up from what is far more common out in the suburban sprawl… Box Store HELL!!!


Above: Tropicaire Shopping Center, a Box Store Hell constructed on the grounds of the former Tropicaire flea market and drive-in cinema, and nearly cutting off a block of apartments from the outside world.

Box Store Hell is yet another example of complete and total failure in urban planning, coupled with a myopic belief that everyone drives a car and never goes anywhere without it.

I guess you could really say the same thing about the box store in general. Typically, it’s the equivalent of a poorly laid out department store, surrounded by parking lot. Usually a MASSIVE expanse of parking lot separates it from the road.

Back in the early 1990s, the mini-mall or strip mall began to disappear as box stores took over where other things had been. The original phrase for a strip mall filled with box stores was “power strip”. It was a number of box stores that had a common walkway in front, sometimes covered. The box store hell, though, is a new kind of awful.

Owing to an obsession in the retail industry for strictly planogrammed stores, many retail chains now insist upon making the very building their store is built into a part of the strict planogram. You may have already noticed this with Walgreens, CVS, Target, and Wal-Mart stores. They all have to be built exactly the same, right down to how the entrances and exits are positioned. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really fit well when all the stores are located together in a ‘power strip’, so the buildings are now just separately dribbled across a vast parking lot. Thus, the Box Store Hell was born and glommed up every bit of commercial zoned landscape it could get its hands on.

Your typical Box Store Hell has a massive parking lot which usually floods in seconds when it rains. Sometimes the parking lot is large enough (especially in the case of Walmart stores) that it required its own stormwater treatment system and underground detention pond be installed. The urban heat island effect is so strong on some of these parking lots that a plastic shopping bag cast into the wind will rise endlessly out of sight, finally disappearing several hundred feet into the air from the thermal updraft.

The parking lot will be a sea of randomly strewn shopping carts, people peeling in and out of parking spaces in sport utility vehicles and minivans without looking first, and a baroque arrangement of nonsensical reserved parking and tow-away zones. There are usually a few spotters for towing companies nearby lurking, watching for you to park in the wrong zone, sometimes even “helpfully” directing you to do so.

Each store has its own shopping carts. You will not be allowed to use the same shopping cart between more than one store, of course; you are expected to pull up to Box Store Hell in your car, visit exactly ONE store, then leave. What, you thought this was supposed to be CONVENIENT?

A second generation of Box Store Hell appeared in some urban centers; it’s basically vertical Box Store Hell. A parking garage is attached and allows access easily(?) to the stores via massive elevators sized to accomodate shopping carts.
These are the goofiest pieces of shit you will ever encounter. Some of them have free parking, but will hold you hostage in a massive line when you’re trying to exit. The line is actually the tail end of a line for valet parking. Others have a pay garage that offers free or discounted parking with validation from one of the box stores in the stack, but if you stay too long you’ll probably be paying a hell of a lot to get out of there. At Midtown Miami, for instance, it’s $30 the moment you hit three hours. Most of these do have pedestrian access though, as opposed to forcing pedestrians to walk through a quarter mile of blindly launched SUVs to get to the stores.

The really curious thing about Box Store Hell happens when a retailer decides to close one of their locations that’s set in one. The entire building will usually be left to rot for a few years, then eventually demolished, because it doesn’t fit the new potential tenant’s planogram. Sometimes it’ll just be knocked down and turned into more parking lot area. There’s just almost no market for a lot and building that big; it’s a total waste.

The most recent Box Store Hell project planned down here in Miami-Dade County is actually seeking to destroy an area of tropical hardwood hammock containing endangered plant species. What’s really more important, yet another Walmart, or one of the last areas of undisturbed tropical hardwood hammock? Seriously? Bueller?

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