Suburban retail giants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. are so anxious to get a piece of South Florida's rapidly growing urban markets, they are willing to stray from traditional store formats that have prospered for generations.
South Florida retail observers say Wal-Mart is certainly not alone in responding to the region's population shift toward urban living. Knowing the prototypical big-box format simply won't work in dense cities where rental rates and land costs are usually much higher and parking is at a premium, major retailers are getting creative.
"Retailers want to be where people are and cannot ignore what's happening with the suburban-to-urban shift," according to Mindy McIlroy, executive vice president at Miami Beach-based Terranova Corp.
For Wal-Mart's proposed Midtown Miami location, which has met with considerable community resistance, gone are the familiar horizontal storefront sign and expansive parking lot. Architecture firm Gensler has designed a Midtown store with glazed brick and a glass storefront, while Zyscovich Architects is designing an adjacent liner building with more than 16,000 square feet of non-Wal-Mart shopping and restaurant space.
Last month Wal-Mart Stores Inc. filed an amended Class II permit application with Miami to account for the liner building.
"We continue to engage with the community in an effort to deliver a store that will not only offer a new, affordable shopping experience for customers, but also complement the existing Midtown Miami retail corridor," Steven Restivo, senior director of community affairs at Wal-Mart, said in a statement. Restivo was unavailable for further comment.
Last September the company announced plans to spend about $350 million to expand in South Florida, with a particular emphasis on urban locations in Miami-Dade County. Wal-Mart also plans to add Neighborhood Market stores, which are typically about 40,000 square feet and compete in the discount grocery sector.
The Neighborhood Market stores could be an option in urban settings where conventional big-box formats would not work. South Florida has eight of them, including locations in Boynton Beach, Coral Springs, Hialeah and West Palm Beach.
"Wal-Mart is the 800-pound gorilla in that category and is used to getting what they want," McIlroy said. "For them to exhibit that kind of flexibility, it speaks volumes about how they feel about our urban market."
Nationally, powerhouse retailers are testing urban-concept stores in cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco.