Walmart closes, Community builds a giant library

It appears where retail giants fail, public libraries succeed. McAllen, Texas converted a 124,500 sqft "big box" into the largest single floor library in the US.

The LA Times reports:

McAllen is near the southernmost tip of Texas, on the Mexico border. "In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it's amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust," Ramirez writes. "It's easy to fall into drugs, drinking, and violence when you live on the border. It's not really easy to find a place to hang out when you're 14 that's not the mall, the movies, or Mexico. And a giant library -- a cool-looking open space devoted to entertaining the imagination? Well, I think that's the best counter-move against violence imaginable. And you don't even have to wait for a computer now."
**The Los Angeles Times has updated their story. Walmart, as was reported in the comments, grew into a larger location and did not fail at the location-now-library.

[For the Record, 9:45 a.m. July 5: A previous version of this post said Wal-Mart had failed in the McAllen, Texas, location. The discount store remains in the community in a larger location.]

Los Angeles Times: Where Wal-Mart failed, a library succeeds


      1.  Wait until the Wal-mart sheds its exoskeleton and moves into a new exoskeleton across town?

        Every abandoned Wal-mart I’ve encountered here in the midwest exists because a newer, bigger Wal-mart has opened up somewhere else nearby.  Not because it’s actually gone out of business.  They aren’t dying, they’re just getting bigger.

        (Now abandoned K-Marts on the other hand – those actually are dead husks, not just abandoned exoskeletons).

        1. It’s cheaper to build a new building than repair an existing one, plus people get excited to shop at the new one, even if it is the seventh in the area.  The rest of us can live and thrive in the waste that’s left behind I guess? Yay!

          1. “It’s cheaper to build a new building than repair an existing one.”

            If that were actually true, then why would the community move into and repurpose an abandoned one instead of building its own library?

          2. Correction: Cheaper for a corporation. Governments don’t run like corporations, no matter what presidential hopefuls say.

          3. I agree that governments don’t run like corporations, but what is the relevant difference in this case? Something in the corporate tax code?

        2. Abandoned Kmarts could be turned into Zombie Apocalypse Training Centers! Sure, people laugh now, but when the apocalypse actually happens, they’ll be glad all those Kmarts went out of business and got converted to better purposes.

        3. Some of the NON-abandoned K-Marts I’ve been to remind me of dead husks of what used to be functional stores — product placed more or less randomly in a sort of parody of a department store. 

  1. Well the story isn’t entirely accurate.  Walmart didn’t actually fail at this location, they just built a bigger store behind this old one. 

      1. Considering that they so often cajole city officials into giving them huge tax breaks and almost free infrastructure upgrades for their new locations, they probably should sell their abandoned locations for a reasonable amount.

    1. Walmarts moving into bigger locations and sell off otherwise useless buildings to local government? Why yes, I think you probably can.

  2. Seems to be the reverse of how things normally work. I approve of this use of space.

    Wonder what they’re doing with the acre or so of parking.

  3. Not really… Look at Google maps at the library location. 4001 N. 23rd St. McAllen, TX 78504. Walmart shut down an old Walmart and built a Super Walmart a block away. Great use of the old building, but no Walmart fail.

  4. A library in TEXAS of all places.  So the legislators haven’t managed to burn ALL of the books, yet?

    1. Aisles and aisles of copies of Rick Perry’s “Fed Up!”, and The Bible.

      j/k Texas. It’s nice to see something good about you in the news for once. Arizona and Florida will have to take up the WTF?! slack for the day.

  5. i’d like to see this happen with more  bigbox stores when they fail or move. nothing is worse than a failed business with multiple physical locations still waiting for new tenants… like boarders for example.

  6. All of you in the maker-space scene, if you want to evangelize the merits of municipal maker-spaces, I suspect McAllen’s a good place to start in..

  7. Dear Texas,
    I take back at least one of the nasty things I’ve ever said about you.
    Love,  phuzz

  8.  Charlie, I live in McAllen and you are correct. The newer, bigger WalMart is about a block away from the old one. However, the new library is AWESOME! We also have an art incubator that consists of a few re-purposed office buildings near the old library location where artists and makers can rent space.

  9. It’s cost-effective, reduces violence, and benefits poor children?  How did Republicans ever allow this?

    1.  IIRC, most of the eastern border counties are solid Democrat districts. Quick check of the map tells me all but the two smallest border counties went for Obama in 2008.

  10. Nothing new. Several years ago when WalMart in Tifton, GA, moved into a bigger store 5 miles away, they left an empty shell standing.  When the local library expanded later, they moved into the ex-WalMart shell temporarily.  It was a great space, strangely quiet, but with these creepy smiley faces on the walls.  I thought at the time it was a marvelous use of the space.  Our library should have done that instead of sinking $10Million +++ into a building to house library director Kathryn Ames’ ego.  Honestly, with all the empty shells in the Athens, GA, we could have done a lot better with a lot less money and spread out services at the same time.  What a great way to go in this time of belt tightening.

    1.  One of the problems with repurposing existing buildings as libraries if they have a collection of any great size is that most commercial buildings aren’t built to library specs–all the accumulated weight of all that paper is significant, and if it’s designed for offices the floors can’t handle the load. Big-box retail stores may be strong enough, though, and you’ll notice from the photo above that they have relatively short shelves, well-spaced over the floor. I wonder if there’s any sort of basement level.

  11. I’m curious about the effect of the architecture, given this is a ‘counter-move against violence’. They’ve left the shelf height low, so that the librarian can see if anyone acts out; but what about sound? This is a very open space with metallic surfaces, it looks like the smallest noise would carry. Is this more conducive to people keeping it down in a library, as opposed to say, hanging heavy drapes from those pipes to deaden the noise?

    1. Books have a natural noise abatement effect, especially the more interesting ones. {;>9

  12. This was proposed to happen at the abandoned Borders in the town just left. I believe it is in the works. Seems like an upgrade to me, especially considering it is a town of over 100K people and only a single library branch.

  13. What everyone is ignoring is that this is a problem all over the country. Wal-mart ‘outgrows’ it’s buildings then builds new Super Wal-marts down the street. Often abandoning their old stores with restrictive covenants so that future tenants can’t compete with Wal-mart (and since Wal-mart sells everything, it’s hard not to compete). Usually Wal-mart’s are anchors in strip malls and when Wal-mart leaves, even if it’s down the street, it kills the entire strip mall, leaving abandoned hulks in towns across America. So, the only thing it could practically be turned into is a library.

  14. Mal*Wart, the world’s LARGEST holder of vacant property. 

    Always Low Wages. Always Mal*Wart.

    1. The problems are  the location, generally, and the extreme size of the structures. I believe most Mal*Warts are not close to residences, but are part of urban sprawl–so it may not be the best move to put a library where no one lives, where everyone has to drive their own steel bubble to get to. 

      Putting libraries in communities, around where people live, is a much better plan. Even if the library is smaller it just helps to make the community a more walkable, bikeable place.

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