Sociology the History of Strip Malls in America

A strip mall (often called a shopping plaza or mini mall) is basically an open-area shopping centre with stores arranged in a row. There is a sidewalk at the front of these. Strip malls are developed as a unit and have huge parking bays out the front. They are relatively self contained, face major traffic arterials and usually range in size from 5,000 square feet to over 100,000 square feet. The smaller size strip mall is the more common and is usually found at the intersection of a main road. They cater to a small residential area and are extremely popular.

A myriad of strip malls contain small restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, hair dressers, grocery stores, video hire stores and bakeries. To many, strip malls are relatively new but a type of strip mall really dates right back to biblical times. Often times markets sold fruits, grains, fish, vegetables, poultry, eggs. Most of these faced high traffic areas as far as pedestrians were concerned and in place of cars, specific areas were allocated for mules and so forth. Archaeologists have found relics of numerous open style market stalls, with rock formations showing that many of these had been very much like our single line, box style rows of stores.

The first documented modern style of strip mall dates back to the 1920’s. These enterprises were (and still are) usually constructed on land which is ill-suited for anything else. Kansas City is supposed to be the true birthplace of strip malls as we know them today. But the strip mall merits its popularity on ancient commercial principals. Utilizing the presence of roads, high traffic areas, means that a reasonable amount of people will make good use of these. Within the 1920’s poverty was very prominent, this had many hopeful entrepreneurs selling home grown vegetables, eggs, poultry, fish and so forth.

Many setting up stalls in popular highly frequented areas. Other hopefuls jumped on the band wagon and starting selling their wares, second hand clothing, cutlery, crockery, crocheted garments and so forth. Slow but steadily they multiplied, more so after the 2ns World War. This was when the popularity of automobile ownership started to increase. Parking bays were now needed and more car friendly retail shops as well, now that more people were getting out and about. This new sense of freedom gave so many something to look forward to other than sitting at home. Store owners hoping to pull in more customers started to realize that bland looking box style stores were far from appealing to the eye. Therefore functionality was then matched with architectural presentation, eye appeal, advertising and competitiveness.

Aesthetics came into the equation in the last couple of decades. Customers are now quite influenced by strip malls which somehow appeal to their sense of class, taste and culture. Stepping away from the suburban stigma of bland, shoddily constructed boxes, strip malls are now as diverse as those who make use of them. Veering away from the straight line presentation, we now see a variety of strip malls which have stepped away from the conservatives of olden days. Many are now small groups of stores rather than straight line clones of each other. Bleakness is slowly disappearing and some of the stores are very chic indeed. Many being constructed around parking lots rather than behind them.

Strip malls are far from the eye-sores they once were. The class conscious now have no justification for looking down their noses at what they once deemed the poor stores. Many of these now contain elite fashions stores as well as the big box retailers such as Wal-Mart of Target. These type of strip malls are deemed ‘power centres’ in the real estate development industry. Love them or hate them strip malls are here to stay by the look of things. Architectural styles vary so much these days, yes one may see the older blander styles but they will also see the elaborate architecture which now blends in with the others.

The more modern trend is to screen the parking lot from nearby residences and the street making for a more attractive appeal. Other trends are to have the strip malls which allow entrance from both the street as well as the sidewalks. In some countries strip malls are found on the very edge of cities. These are often called ‘out of town shopping centres.’ In other countries these are deemed ‘retail parks.’

Strip malls once garnered a fair amount of scorn due to their ugliness. Most strip malls are unpretentious, what you see is what you get. If they look cheaply constructed, chances they are. Most businesses which occupy them are generally strapped for finances and are attempting to gain solid ground with their products and services, prior to branching to more costly premises. Fortunately strip malls support the inexpensive stores, allowing the budget conscious to gain some wonderful bargains. This saves money and in this age of economic crisis, that’s an asset indeed. Strip malls are certainly undependable to the low-income family. They may not be as attractive as their counterparts, but they have their uses.