History of Shopping Center


Shopping centers have been in existence since ancient Greek and Roman eras. In ancient Greece, the central shopping area of a city was called the agora and consisted of a large, open area in which merchants could display and sell their products. The first established shopping mall was built by Emperor Trajan in Rome nearly 2,000 years before the modern shopping center. This market was constructed in Trajan’s forum and consisted of a semi-circular building with a large vaulted hall, resembling a basilica, on top. The Emperor’s market included an array of shops, all of which faced a corridor, allowing customers to view the products and goods for sale. This center also featured several restaurants and bars, an important precursor to today’s mix of stores and shops included in shopping centers. The market consisted of several levels and more than 150 outlets that sold a wide variety of products including luxury clothing, silks, spices, and fresh food. Trajan’s Forum and the market were built nearly 2,000 years before the first recognized modern shopping center.



The modern shopping center, which includes the small suburban strip center as well as the million-square-foot superregional malls, originated in the 1920s. In California, grocery stores would serve as the anchor store for a collection of smaller surrounding stores.  According to Samuel Feinberg, shopping centers in the United States began in 1907, in a Baltimore neighborhood where a group of shops established off-street parking for their customers.  J.C. Nichols of Kansas City, Missouri is generally credited with the idea of establishing a shopping district away from a downtown. In 1922, Nichols’ Country Club Plaza was constructed as the business district for a large-scale residential development. The Plaza featured a planned and unified architecture, a paved parking lot, and a variety of stores which were managed and maintained as a single unit. In 1928, Grandview Avenue Shopping Center in Columbus, Ohio was opened. This large center included nearly 300 stores and a parking lot which could accommodate nearly 400 cars.

Many historians consider Highland Park Shopping Village in Dallas, Texas to be the first actual planned shopping center. The Village was developed by Hugh Prather in 1931 and included a collection of stores built with a unified structure and theme.

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The late 1930s and 1940s witnessed the establishment and expansion of the commercial chains Sears Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward. These stores were set far away from large cities, accompanied with parking lots with ample space. In the early 1950s, Northgate in Seattle, Washington featured branches of major downtown department stores surrounded by smaller commercial shops. Soon after, Shoppers World in Framingham, Massachusetts was the first two-level center in the United States and was established in 1951. Later, in 1954, Northland Center in Detroit, Michigan utilized the “cluster layout,” which consisted of a single department store at the center and a collection of smaller stores surrounding it. Important features of Northland included surrounding parking lots and central air-conditions and heating.

In the years immediately following World War II, the expansion of suburban development and population growth created the need for additional housing options and more convenient retail shopping. An increasing number of centers built in the post-World War II years were strip centers which served new housing developments.

In 1976, the Rouse Company developed Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Massachusetts which revolutionized the history of the shopping center. This Market was the first festival marketplace built in the United States. Festival marketplaces typically centered upon food and retail specialty items. Other similar marketplaces followed in locations such as Baltimore, New York and Miami. With the opening of Water Tower Place in Chicago, Illinois in the late 1970s, the shopping center industry had returned to a more urban location.

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More than 16,000 centers were built between 1980 and 1990. This decade was characterized by the increase in superregional shopping centers, which were malls measuring more than 800,000 square feet. Factory outlet centers became increasingly popular throughout 1990s. Outlet malls provided manufacturers with the opportunity to sell their own goods at discounted prices.

In addition to factory outlets, entertainment centers played a crucial role throughout the 1990s. Seeking to incorporate forms of entertainment, shopping centers began to offer a variety of activities, such as children’s play areas, live music, movies in large, multiplex cinemas, food courts, amusement parks, merchandising techniques, robotic animal displays, and other interactive demonstrations.

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