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The opposite of the big box store

Nothing defines “big box” more than Wal-Mart, take this recent bit from Iowa:  “the Wal-Mart Supercenter will cover 150,000 square feet of land — around 40,000 feet fewer than the company originally planned.” (source)  40,000 feet fewer?

In the earlier days of our city we had the small box store.  No, make that tiny box.

4219 Virginia
4219 Virginia (Source: Google Street View)

This tiny storefront was built in front of a single-family detached home just down the street from the streetcar commercial district at Meramec & Virginia (map).  Built in the time before zoning laws this storefront extended the established commercial district just a bit farther.  But head down Virginia or most city streets and storefronts dot the landscape.  Commercial activity was not limited to the strip/power center or mall.  Of course most customers were on foot back then.  Thanks to our progress we are forced to drive a car to make purchases.

I can see in the future adding such structures in the sprawling suburbs.  Attitudes and zoning laws will need to change before we will see these in suburbia but it is an option I think we will see explored to make sprawl more walkable in the next half century.

This storefront on Virginia Ave. was vacant for many years.  Finally a creative couple found the answer.

Last month I attended the opening of The Virginia House, a new art gallery.  I had seen the inside 4-5 years ago so I know they did a lot of work on this tiny space. So the space is no longer offering sundries, it is adding activity to the street.  It is a window to peek into even when closed.

I’m not the only one that likes these storefront.  Michael Allen has featured many on The Ecology of Absence.  Here is a recent post of a fine 3-story home that gained a storefront addition in 1912.

It makes a much more intimate space for a gathering than say a former Wal-Mart big big store.

– Steve Patterson