My Old Circuit City is a…Church!?!?!

Do you ever get jealous?

We did when we recently heard about Big Box Reuse, a book published late last year that was written by Julia Christensen. The author went around the country and looked a creative ways in which former big-box stores were converted into other, creative uses.

Why can’t we come up with these ideas?

Anyway, many of these tenant changes are fascinating, some of which are detailed in this interview.

Here is a sample:

  • A former Kmart in Austin, MN is now a Spam Museum.
  • A vacant Wal-Mart in Round Rock, TX became a Go Kart track.
  • In Lebanon, MO, a former Kmart was turned into a Route 66 museum and a library.
  • The Calvary Chapel in Pinellas Park, FL, had outgrown its former location, once a Winn-Dixie store, and moved into a vacated Wal-Mart a few years ago.

We know that these scenarios can’t fill the massive space coming on line due to bankruptcies and mass store closures, but it shows that other uses can provide some relief.


7 Responses to “My Old Circuit City is a…Church!?!?!”

  1. 1 Derrich February 26, 2009 at 9:27 am

    The ‘Go Kart’ track in Austin (er, Round Rock) isn’t just any go kart track. It’s an experience.

    There’s one noteworthy property (55,000 sq. ft.) in San Antonio that was an Albertsons. It was purchased by a church, and it will be the new home for the Downtown YMCA.

    The concept will include half church, half gym.

  2. 2 Larry Ortega February 26, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Recycling real estate will be a top priority not only for retail but for office and industrial. The dirth of surplus real estate capacity will need the most innovation of solutions. I have been involved with over 2.5 million square feet of recyling in the Phoenix market place over the years. Churchs make a lot of sense, I am representing a church right now that will be taking over a car dealership here in Phoenix. If you look at the situation, these car dealerships are just Big Boxes with lot’s of parking. Guess what? The church has plenty of cash and a lot more vision! With the economic malaise we are facing, properties that were far out of the reach of church’s finances are now much more affordable. Seems like God has a plan for empty boxes.

    All the best

  3. 3 Brian Glass February 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Adaptive reuse is not new.I have been involved in this for over 15 years I sold a former supermarket to a school board for its headquarters, a Winn-Dixie to a church and a sporting goods store to a car dealer.It became the largest showroom in the state, at the time.

    The marketplace that we are in now willsimply be a larger
    version of adaptive reuse.

  4. 4 BillFromBrookline February 26, 2009 at 10:59 am

    There’s a church in Shreveport, Louisiana that took over not just a big box store, but an entire enclosed shopping mall.

  5. 5 James February 27, 2009 at 8:26 am

    What adaptive reuse does not do is replace the income stream and credit worthiness of a real operator. The loss in terms of investment value, retail synergisms, and finance-ability is so high that it is devastating to ownership and the community. Sorry folks I don’t buy platitudes about creative reuse, community involvement, public space, etc, I think these uses will have short life spans and then the inevitable will take hold, vacancy and blight. Given the overall negative effect, my vote is to call out the bulldozers sooner rather than later.

  6. 6 Ellen Dunham-Jones February 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    One of my favorite examples is a Kroger supermarket in Savannah, GA that was converted to a women’s health clinic. The outparcels were redeveloped as doctor’s offices and the MRI and CT scanners were installed in the former frozen foods section because that’s where the high voltage was in place! I’ve never been able to walk down the frozen food aisle without getting a tad uneasy since. For more examples of big box re-use as well as examples of redevelopments of dead malls, office parks, subdivisions, etc., check out the newly released book June Williamson and I have written, Retrofitting Suburbia (New York: Wiley, 2009). More info at

  7. 7 Joshua March 2, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I completely agree with James. why would anyone want a church as a tenant? in my experience they have no ability to pay rent since their income is derived from donations of the congregation. anytime we work with a property with a church tenant or church ownership, the church inevitably becomes the biggest focus.

    now, as far as reuse and filling space goes, there are tons of novelty ideas. most of these will simply fill a vacancy for a period of time then disappear.

    i am not trying to poo-poo these kinds of creativity. im simply saying, that in most circumstances, these uses are not good for a property or investment. there are obviously times when these uses are good for the surrounding community, but those are specific instances and not the norm.

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