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16 Pictures That Show There's Hope For Walmart

**To jump directly to the meat and potato pictures, click HERE for Page Three of this article.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In light of fallout from last Saturday's 24 Pictures From a Walmart That Make Sears Look Classy and the follow-up smash Mistreated Walmart Employees Speak Out Against Company, I need to set a few records straight before expressing -- in words and pictures -- some relatively positive Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report)-related sentiment:

  • I'm not practicing Can we make Sarah Palin look dumber than we already think she is? "gotcha" journalism by finding, taking and publishing unflattering images of Walmart and Sears Holdings (SHLD - Get Report) stores.
  • The pictures are not the story; rather they contain and/or illustrate the story. Best case -- photographs lead to deeper explanations of what's going on. That's what happened as a result of the 24 I posted of the South LA Walmart.
  • I'm not pro-union. I'm not anti-union. I'm agnostic, bordering on apathetic. The only time I had a chance to join a union -- AFTRA in Pittsburgh in 1996-97 -- I chose not to even though they said it was mandatory. I didn't see the utility at the time.
  • I'm not anti-chain store (though, in my younger days, I was). My work on Starbucks (SBUX) attests to that.
  • My coverage of Walmart isn't political. Not in the least bit. I simply have no dog in that fight. 

And, maybe most importantly, I've been interested in and writing about retail for quite some time. In fact, if you scroll my article history, you'll see I hit it from several angles. An interest in the well-established discipline of Walmart patheticism (my word) represents a natural progression. 

Sometimes I explore the general sorry state of a large swath of physical retail.

Often, and pursuant to what the present article covers, I consider attempts by big box retail to become more urban (or produce smaller stores, which you generally need to do if you want to tap quintessential or decidedly more urban markets).

For instance, as they started opening across Southern California, I visited several CityTarget stores -- that's Target's (TGT - Get Report) alleged urban concept.

In late 2012, I published CityTarget: Major Disappointment, but Is It an Epic Failure?. In that article, I came to a conclusion that still stands: Target missed a major opportunity to differentiate itself in urban neighborhoods.

Walk into a CityTarget and you'll be hard pressed to distinguish it from the traditionally big box, suburban Targets you have come to know and have your personal banking information stolen from. In fact, as I described in the above-linked article, there's not even a noticeable square footage difference between Target store types:

On average, SuperTargets take up the most square footage at 177,291 apiece. Expanded food stores come in at 129,281 per. General merchandise stores run 119,084 square feet each. And CityTargets are not too far behind thus far at 102,800 square feet per location.

I ran the most recent numbers and there's been no meaningful change in those numbers over the last couple of years. 75,000 square feet might sound like a lot; however, in practice, it doesn't feel like it. CityTarget is little more than Target's slightly smaller stepchild. 

In terms of doing urban (or smaller stores in pseudo-urban or suburban locations) and doing it relatively well, Walmart wins. In fact, it renders Target an embarrassment.

Whereas Target made slight adaptations to its standard fare store, Walmart's urban (and smaller store) concept -- Walmart Neighborhood Market -- feels like a completely different experience. You don't feel quite like you're in a Walmart that just so happens to be smaller. You actually feel as if, on some level, Walmart reinvented itself for dense spaces inside core traditional city neighborhoods and to diversify its business in places where it already operates.

Don't get me wrong -- Walmart hasn't necessarily innovated like Amazon.com (AMZN) with the neighborhood market concept. However, it didn't mail it in the way Target has. Relative to today's pitiful physical retail environment that's a small victory worth texting home about.

And it speaks to the controversy last Saturday's article and the events of the past week triggered:

Walmart can -- with a little love and attention -- do things well.

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