What's To Come Of All The Space Left Over By Shrinking Big Box Stores?

In recent years, a number of big box retailers and department store chains have begun the process of closing stores and cutting the size of some existing outlets. But since there isn’t exactly a huge rush by other retailers to snap up those spaces, are we going to inundated with empty ghost stores that stand as a reminder of the big box boom?

This problem has already been seen in the malls of America, where nearly 1-in-10 stores stood vacant in 2011.

Recently, discount warehouse stores like Costco, which have weathered the recession, have been considered as a possible replacement for all the Sears, JCPenney and other department stores that had historically anchored shopping malls.

Of course, there is a limit to how many bricks-and-mortar locations even the most successful chain can maintain. So some large retail spaces will remain un-leased, which means property owners will need to get creative in attracting new tenants.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune takes a look at a handful of Twin Cities-area retail locations that have been converted, not into new stores but into medical offices.

“Landlords are looking for tenants and are more willing to be flexible,” explains the director of development for a health care operator that has converted three retail spaces into clinics in just the last few years. “What we get is visibility, easy access, convenient parking and a lot of other amenities.”

Minnesota is the home to a huge name in shopping — the Mall of America — and a health care biggie — the Mayo Clinic. And the Star-Tribune reports that the clinic could fill some vacancies at the mammoth shopping mecca.

Meanwhile, other clinics have opened up in spaces formerly occupied by businesses ranging from Walmart to Old Country Buffet.

These retail locations often offer some very attractive aspects to medical businesses — proximity to transportation, ample parking, large and high-profile signage, ability to change the interior space as needs change, room to sublet space to complimentary services and businesses.

But just like there are only so many Costcos that can fill vacancies, there will be a limit to the number of dental, renal, spinal clinics that can be sustained.

Could they become the suburban version of the factory loft apartment? We’ve seen old schools, churches and office buildings turned into condos and hotels, but we expect the whole lack-of-windows thing might be a roadblock to converting an old Borders into deluxe living quarters.

Maybe they should be converted into paintball arenas? Feel free to give your suggestions in the comments.