Attribute it to empty-nest syndrome, falling crime rates, or rising gas prices: suburbanites are downsizing to apartments and condos located near theaters and cafes on walkable downtown blocks in San Diego, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and other cities nationwide.
Big-box retailers are in hot pursuit, eager to grow beyond their longtime suburban locations to tap these emerging markets. But the traditionally sprawling floor plates of these stores aren’t a good fit for densely settled urban areas. So, architects are laying them out more up-and-down than left-to-right—with more floors, less parking, fewer signs, and more glass facades—even if that means breaking with the look that once helped define the store’s brand. “Big-box retailers across the country are becoming substantially more flexible about what kind of box they can use,” says John Bemis, an Atlanta-based director of Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, a national real estate firm.