The fate of the big box store

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A local mall near me now has an indoor electric cart track in what was once, I believe, an enormous JC Penney.

A local entrepreneur where I live is planning to repurpose the nearby abandoned Walmart (they expanded into a larger facility about ten miles away) as a hydroponic farm. This is a bit weird when you consider that there’s no natural light, but apparently LED lighting is cheaper than glass?

Glass ceilings probably wouldn’t provide near enough light for enough of the day. LED grow lights are really making a big splash, powering grow lights is way less expensive. Cops and power companies will probably rue the day until everyone wises up and legalizes.

That’s interesting. I imagine that artificial lighting allows for more consistent application throughout the day, and regardless of weather, so plants grow bigger and yield more. That’s certainly the case with the plants I grow from seed at home before I put them outside.

Back to the original topic, I don’t shed any tears seeing big box stores go away - it’s not like they were somehow a valuable part of our culture or economy. Box stores killed local retail, and now online retail is (kinda) killing box stores. Oh well, that’s progress for ya.


It costs electricity, but the tradeoff for full-spectrum LED lighting is being able to get full-intensity direct “sun” for 12, 18, 20 hours a day, as optimized for that specific crop.

Used with a hydroponic or aquaponic setup, it means massive yields of fully organic vegetables from less space than conventional farming.


Products that move towards commoditization are not differentiators for retailers. I know what a box of Triscuits is and whether I want it, just like I know if I want a Mac or not.

There are still plenty of products that are not commoditized and consumers really want to see what they could buy before they buy it. No one likes dealing with returns.

Big box stores have often run into trouble with this, though. Walmart adds grocery stores so that people will do their grocery shopping their, and then also pick up some commoditized items (t-shirt, socks, diapers) where they may have a reasonable margin. Similarly, successful big box stores experiment with private labeling (Target does this extensively with multiple private labels), and appeal to consumers by providing high quality options available only in store. You combat commoditization with real, valuable variety.

they’re massive DIY skateparks waiting to happen. indoor, with perfectly poured smooth floors, in every backyard in the nation. recession in the 70s helped skateboarding expand to pools because of sheer number abandoned homes with empty pools. if something (drones) really does come along to make the big box store obsolete, there’d be a glut of them sitting empty nationwide in the same way as the first pools were for people like TA.

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I guess it depends on the crop. Here in Vermont, my wife grows really nice greens in winter using a hydroponic technique with only natural light from south-facing windows. She does use an LED grow-light for the tomatoes, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. However, this isn’t really a scalable technique, because the windows are quite expensive, and could not be justified if it weren’t a space that was going to be conditioned for habitation anyway.

Cover the roof with solar panels to power your LED lights. Use the existing sprinkler system to water your crops (or replenish the water, in the case of hydro- or aquaponics).

I’m wondering if we’re going to return to the days of the early Sears and Montgomery Ward catalog stores- Where they stock one of everything just so people can come in and see them in person before they order from the catalog.

I could totally see Amazon setting up something like that with a QR code or RFID tag on everything. Go in, compare items, and when you find the one you like, tap a button on your smartphone and it shows up on your doorstep a few days later.

I was hoping for massive roller skating rinks, but I suppose that a boring ol’ skate park would be fine as well.


How long will I have to wait for a new liver?

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