40 percent of US department stores have closed their doors in the past five years, but the question remains: what do we do with these huge spaces? Many will be demolished, but some communities are turning defunct big-box stores into repurposed useful spaces.
Department stores and libraries both require large spaces with convenient community access, which is why New York City turned one of its old big-box stores into a thriving community library. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library sits in an old location of Arnold Constable & Co., the first department store chain in the U.S. Located on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, the library takes advantage of the building’s clear layout and spacious design to connect residents with reading materials, resume feedback, a learning center, and even a rooftop terrace.
Earlier in the pandemic, we wrote about office spaces being turned into remote learning centers, but many companies are also looking for repurposed spaces themselves. Amazon recently purchased a former Lord & Taylor location in Manhattan with plans to turn it into a 630,000 square foot office space for some 2,000 employees.
Perhaps most impressive, over the last decade, the Austin Community College has turned an entire former mall into a mixed-use campus. The 50-year old Highland Mall now features an academic space in an old J.C. Penney store as well as renovated headquarters for Austin’s PBS station and college broadcast facilities and offices.
Department stores have large open floor plans and are usually centrally located near major roads and public transit stations. These factors make them perfect for repurposing as new spaces. The demand for a department store may no longer be needed, but a new library, office space, or college campus can revitalize these spaces into heavily trafficked community resources.