Closures by big-box tenants have hurt the retail real estate industry over the past few years. But has the problem been even more dramatic than previously thought? Findings from the first part of a two-part white paper published by Colliers International estimates that vacant, large-format retail stores in the U.S. actually account for more than 34 percent of all retail vacancy.

The white paper, which counts any retail building of at least 20,000 feet as a big box, is based on combing through data from CoStar Group along with anecdotes recounting the major blows the big-box space has taken since 2006.

According CoStar’s numbers, of the 11.6 billion square feet of retail space in the United States, 870.7 million square feet stands vacant and just less than 300 million square feet of that is accounted for by retail spaces containing 20,000 square feet or more.

Further, the paper, which features Colliers Retail Research Director Garrick H.S. Brown as its principal author, says, “In fact, approximately 120 million square feet of big box retail space has been vacated since January 2008 alone. That figure is roughly the equivalent of the entire shopping center inventories of Baltimore, Cincinnati and Kansas City combined.”

Many of the culprits make up the familiar rogues’ gallery of now-defunct retailers including Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things, Mervyns and Steve & Barry’s. But liquidating chains were not the only problems. During the difficult retail climate that emerged as part of the Great Recession many large format retailers slimmed portfolios and exacerbated the problem. And now fears are arising that Barnes & Noble will be the next big-box chain to close stores.

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