The U.S. is and always has been a commercial culture. Its cities and towns are defined by the commercial enterprises that call them home. And as Walmart redefined the U.S.’s retail industry, it helped reshape its physical landscape too. The selection that Americans began to demand required bigger stores that could only be built on the outskirts of small towns or in the suburbs of large cities. Walmart wasn’t alone in promoting suburban sprawl, but it is a symbol of the big-box stores that have come to dominate the American landscape.
Ironically, the same drive for greater selection and low prices that made Walmart such a staggering success may be sowing the seeds of its eventual downfall, as e-commerce takes a larger share of retail sales. Walmart is still doing fine, but its struggle to promote its own Internet business is one of the only visible chinks in its armor.