Discarded by Walmart, a Box Store Becomes a Thriving Library

Residents of McAllen, TX eager to use free internet or check out a novel can do so in an unusual

While corporations have enjoyed record profits during the economic downturn, municipalities have struggled to keep basic services like school systems running. With big cities from Detroit to Denver making significant cuts in service, libraries have been particularly beleaguered. But those trends are what make the recent opening of the New Main Library in McAllen, Texas so remarkable, and not just because it's well designed. Since December, residents of this South Texas border town eager to use free internet, check out a novel, or even relax over a cup of coffee can do so in an unusual location: a former Walmart, renovated to become the country's largest single-story library.

According to local news reports, the city purchased the abandoned store from the corporation for $5 million and spent nearly $26 million dollars total on the project, with renovations led by the Minneapolis-based firm MS&R Architecture. While a 2 1/2 football-field sized property has great potential (think of all the books!), the massiveness posed the "primary challenge" to the design team which relied heavily on color to help users understand the floor-plan and navigate the building. Features include conference rooms, a coffee shop, a copy center, an acoustically-shielded space for chatty teenagers, and a 64-terminal computer lab: not bad for a small city with a population less than 150,000 people.

The library replaced McAllen's 61-year-old institution, which city officials say they outgrew. And while there's always nostalgia for losing an old relic, the public appears to be loving their new home for learning. Reports from local news showed that more than 10 times as many people registered for new accounts in December 2011 when the library opened than the same month in 2010. On opening day, 2,000 people queued to be the first inside.

Examining the before and after pictures is, perhaps, most remarkable. The space transforms from a drop-ceiling, painfully lit, box store warehouse to a warm, inviting and dynamic space for learning, thinking, and socializing. It's a refreshing example of how cities can do something about vacant megastores, byproducts of vaciliation in corpoarte decision-making about which stores to keep open. The new design isn't going unnoticed: the library just took home the 2012 top award for library interior design by the American Library Association and the International Interior Design Association.

via PSFK. Images via MS&R architecture

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

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She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

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Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


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Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


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Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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