One unfortunate use for empty suburban big box sites: mass vaccination facilities

Suburbs do not like having vacant big box stores. Yet, in the time of COVID-19, they can be useful for vaccinating large numbers of people. Here is the former Sam’s Club where I received my vaccines:

This empty building sits within a busy strip of big box stores on a busy road. The Walmart next door is doing fine as is the Home Depot a little bit to the north. But, this facility can now serve hundreds of people a day. There is plenty of room for the various stations necessary to receive the vaccine including processing paperwork, getting the shot, and waiting afterward to see if there are any side effects. Indeed, there is room to spare as it appears roughly half of the floor space is unused.

Of course, this was not the intended use of the building. It was meant to be a place of commerce, specifically a site where people could buy cheap goods in large quantities inside spartan conditions. The store would have generated a good amount of sales tax money for the municipality and other governments, particularly on weekends when the number of shoppers would lead to busy aisles and checkout lines.

As an article in the Chicago Tribune notes, these sites can be very good for this vaccination use:

Spacious buildings, ample parking and easily accessible locations make vacant big-box stores good places to get shots in arms fast. That’s brought crowds back to some properties left empty even before the coronavirus pandemic heightened challenges for bricks-and-mortar retailers as people stayed home.

But vaccination sites are only a temporary fix for landlords trying to figure out how to reinvent spaces as retailers increasingly look to smaller stores and online sales.

Once the vaccinations are over – hopefully soon – the push will be back on to fill these spaces.