New Jersey to Wal-Mart: Your Look Sucks. Change It.

In Freehold Township, New Jersey, Wal-Mart’s has been forced to clamp down on its ugly, ugly decor:

The first thing shoppers at the new Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores on Route 537 might notice is what the stores look like.

Or rather, what they don’t look like.

There’s no red, white and blue exterior, sitting blunt and squarish on the landscape just like the thousands of other Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs that dot the globe. Instead, there’s a subdued red-brick facade, along with a low-slung roofline punctuated by dormer windows and hanging over a colonnaded walkway.

That’s because Freehold Township, which was founded in 1693, has a 4-year-old ordinance requiring that new commercial businesses be designed with a historical look in mind.

“Every Wal-Mart is a cookie cutter,” said Thomas Antus, the Freehold Township administrator. “We told them if you want to build this, this is what you have to do.”

We hate these sort of town council schemes; frankly, we’d be surprised if a government-sanctioned order of acceptable aesthetic values was even constitutional. Worse yet, it stagnates the look of a town and impedes innovative architectural development. Still — anything that prevents Wal-Mart from dropping another red, white and blue aluminum shack on the middle of another pretty American town pretty much has to get a grudging thumbs up.


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  1. nweaver says:

    Its unfortunatly legal, but I dislike it too…

    I much prefer what Target is starting to do: Architecturally differentiating stores without necessarily being blend in or silly mandate.

    EG, the new 2-story target in Albany is a very interesting take on the big box.

  2. Paul D says:

    My home town (or at least what I call my home town, since I moved around a lot) of Vienna, VA pulled the same thing in the early 90’s when Taco Bell wanted to open a store in what was once a donut shop in the middle of town.

    All of a sudden, there were all kinds of (heretofore loosely enforced) ordinances about the number of colors on the sign, and hours of operation, etc.

    See, it just so happens that the busiest Taco Bell in the country at the time was about 2 miles away in the Merrifield area. The Vienna town bosses (I don’t know what to call them) were terrified that their little posh strip-mall community was going to be infested with the taco-crazed spillover from the Merrifield store.

    Nevermind the fact that, at one time, there were no less than 4 (FOUR!) McDonalds on the 3-mile stretch of Route 123 between the “Welcome to Vienna” and “Now Leaving Vienna” signs.

  3. etinterrapax says:

    A lot of New England towns have similar ordinances. I’m torn. I think Wal-Marts are hideous, but when smaller businesses are forced to conform to this–I’m thinking of a particular Dunkin Donuts location–they become very difficult to see from the road, or are forced to open in out-of-the-way areas so that they cannot grow beyond the local community (and so might not generate enough business to stay open at all). So, separate business districts? No, they get overcrowded, create traffic problems and blight, and take away foot traffic from downtowns, which in many towns need revitalization far more than any other part of the community. Probably no perfect solution. I’d like to see both sides give in a little. And I think Wal-Mart can, and should, give more than most. It’s bad enough they pay as much lip service as they do to what they do “for” communities. This is a very minor concession.

  4. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    Does anyone remember the “Best Products” department stores of the 1980s? Many of their stores had very distinctive architecture. One store in Houston look as if a corner of the roof collapsed, with bricks strewn around an entrance and a big chunk of roof taken off. Another store (Ohio?) had a corner of the store on rollers. The corner was rolled out to show the entrance to the store. I wish I could find pictures on the net, but Google isn’t finding any.

    Just weird to remember the stores’ architecture. When the Houston store was being built, there was lots of opposition to the design.

  5. I think this is a step in the right direction. Now if only we could draft some legislation mandating minimum aesthetic standards for Wal-Mart employees and patrons.


  6. seanko says:

    Walmart also owns the 2nd biggest supermarket chain in Britain Asda. It hasn’t changed the name over, maybe it knows the only publicity it gets in the UK tends to be bad.

  7. SinA says:

    2 year bump.
    it’s totally constitutional.