Publication Detail

The Impacts of Big Box Retail on Downtown: A Case Study of Target in Davis (CA)



National Center for Sustainable Transportation

Suggested Citation:
Sciara, Gian-Claudia, Kristin Lovejoy, Susan L. Handy (2018) The Impacts of Big Box Retail on Downtown: A Case Study of Target in Davis (CA). Journal of the American Planning Association 84 (1), 45 - 60

Problem, research strategy, and findings: Big box stores have proliferated across the United States in the last three decades. Proponents have praised them for providing affordability and convenience to consumers, but opponents have criticized them for driving out local businesses, among other negative impacts for communities. We examine the impact of a big box store on a traditional downtown for the case of Davis (CA), which amended its zoning code to allow a Target store that opened at the periphery of the city in 2009. We use a before-and-after survey to determine where residents shopped for selected items before the store opened and after, evaluating which businesses were most affected. The results show that the new big box store had a limited impact on downtown businesses but substantial impact on stores located elsewhere within Davis and especially beyond city limits.

Takeaway for practice: The Davis case suggests that the impacts of big box stores are not always what opponents anticipate. Other cities may lack some of the natural advantages that helped downtown Davis survive the opening of a big box store, but our results suggest that deliberate efforts to protect and enliven the downtown area mattered, too. Planners who want to fortify their own downtowns from the potential harms of big box stores could focus on enhancing downtown vitality by supporting a wide variety of activities and promoting the experiential aspects of shopping downtown. Such strategies would also put downtowns in a better position for surviving the rapidly evolving terrain of retail industry in the 21st century.

Keywords: shopping, retail, downtown, big box, travel behavior