Monday, June 22, 2009

Bigger is better? Chain stores occupy bigger locations

I grew up in the 1970s, and I remember a store that even at the time was unusual. It was an A&P grocery store in Alexandria, on Quaker Lane just down the road from a small theater. Both establishments are long since gone. You'll note that I referred to the A&P as a "grocery store" and not a "supermarket" - when a grocery store only has four or five aisles, the word "supermarket" somehow doesn't apply.

Several years later I lived in the Upland/Ontario California area, and remember that there used to be a Vons at the southwest corner of Foothill and Euclid in Upland. Eventually that store was closed in favor of another brand store (Pavilions) in another part of the city), but eventually it was decided that a Vons needed to be opened in central Upland again. But when they did so, they didn't try to use the space from the existing Vons. Instead, they built a bigger facility on the NORTHWEST side of Euclid and Foothill.

For those of you who don't live in the Southern California area, I should note that there have been a number of grocery store chain mergers over the last couple of decades. Long-time residents may remember Hughes, Luckys, Alpha Beta, and some other chains that have long since disappeared via merger. And the newly-merged companies eventually ended up closing some of the stores. Just one half mile west of the street-hopping Vons, you can find two shopping centers that used to have two grocery store anchors. The stores closed, and one became a gym while the other became an Office Max. Now the Office Max is closing.

With a few boutique exceptions (Fresh and Easy comes to mind), the general trend for stores has been for small stores to either get bigger, or to close entirely. When I lived in Portland around 1980, Fred Meyer was unusual in providing a bank inside its stores. Now this is the norm (partly because banks have been closing their traditional branches and moving into stores instead).

Of course, as you get bigger and bigger, you end up getting really big. And what happens when the big stores close? A small store gets bigger. This is happening in my local area:

Experts say it won't happen right away, but the [chain store closure] trend will likely send numerous value-oriented retailers into expansion mode as they look to grow their presence by snapping up big-box leases and buildings at bargain rates.

For example, when the Mervyns chain closed down, one of the chains that grabbed Mervyns locations was Forever 21.

The value-priced women's clothing chain Forever 21 is poised to grow again, after it recently acquired 15 leases of bankrupt Gottschalks, which will soon be shuttering all of its stores. Forever 21 by year's end will have new stores up and running at Riverside Plaza and Hemet Valley Mall.

And I'm not even mentioning the very big stores, such as Wal Mart and Ikea. Things are just getting bigger and bigger.

I've seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years, but what will I see in the next 40 years? In 2050, will the site of an old Super Wal Mart be occupied by a 7 Eleven, in which people complain about the paltry selection?
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