Column: Retail must be redesigned


Brent Maugel

In the next two months, more than 700 Toys “R” Us stores will be empty, liquidated thanks to its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. And yes, Amazon may scoop up some of the empty spaces to sell its line of Echo and Alexa products, but the reality is, millions of square feet of big boxes will be empty. This presents an opportunity to re-imagine how this space could and should be utilized.

Ask anyone in the retail space, and they'll tell you experiential retail is the future. Coined retailment, this combination of retail and entertainment is all about the experience and memory, all designed to be more than just a cash transaction. So why not ride this wave? Apple stores may have been on the forefront in this trend, but it's since been joined by pubs in a bookshop, perfume sellers, furniture shopping – all just a fraction of the industries jumping into the experiential pool. Experiential retail is here to stay, so why not design for it?

Let's face it – there aren't many retailers who can, or would want to, fill the vacant Toys “R” Us big boxes. With the wave of online shopping showing no signs of abating, a retailer will think twice before committing to that size space. With that fiscal reality in mind, why not design the space for multiple companies? In the past where a space was simply too big, we created an urban alleyway in the middle of the building and in doing so, turned the space into two buildings. The alleyway had benches, bicycle racks and pedestrian walkways – creating better space for smaller tenants, with multiple entryways and lots of natural light.

The healthcare industry is poised to spark a development renaissance. With a growing desire for hospitals to expand their patient network, satellite facilities are becoming increasingly popular. We've been doing a large amount of these facilities. The big trend in healthcare is retailization, where major hospitals are taking a close look at having medical facilities as anchors in retail plazas. There is the opportunity for hospitals to grab property in convenient, highly trafficked areas with ample parking. With a 5.8-percent expected growth rate for urgent care facilities in 2018 as reported by the Urgent Care Association of America, medical space could certainly be a viable occupant in an existing retail location.

And satisfaction of care at these facilities certainly adds to the attraction. As reported by the Patients' Perspectives on Health Care survey series, 75 percent of patients rated the quality of care they received at an urgent care center as excellent or good – better than a visit to the emergency room.

Toys “R” Us has provided a significant opportunity for bold, new thinking for businesses, developers and architects. Let's seize the moment and make the most of it.

Brent Maugel is founder and president of Maugel Architects, a Harvard firm celebrating its 25th anniversary.