A Brief History of the Mall


Richard A. Feinberg and Jennifer Meoli (1991) ,"A Brief History of the Mall", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 426-427.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 426-427


Richard A. Feinberg, Purdue University

Jennifer Meoli, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

America has been "Malled." The "air-conditioned, sanitized, standardized" shopping malls "have become the new Main Streets of America" (Consumer Reports, 1986). Along with power mowers, "the pill," antibiotics. smoke detectors, transistors, and personal computers, the shopping mall was selected as one of the top 50 wonders that has revolutionized the lives of consumers (Consumer Reports, 1986). Because alternative retail settings may differ in important economic, social, and psychological characteristics, the shopping mall may exert a significant influence on individual and collective consumer behavior.

Why then has there been so little attention to the mall by the consumer research community, either as an important setting for consumer behavior or a social and consumer phenomenon in and of itself? While we can find Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris defending malls against evil doers and Michael J. Fox taking off back to the future from the mall in recent movies, we would be hard pressed to find a scholarly treatment in our best journals.

History of Shopping Centers

Shopping malls didn't just happen. They are not the result of wise planners deciding that suburban people, having no social life and stimulation, needed a place to go (Bombeck, 1985). The mall was originally conceived of as a community center where people would converge for shopping, cultural activity, and social interaction (Gruen & Smith, 1960). It is safe to say that the mall has achieved and surpassed those early expectations. In today's consumer culture the mall is the center of the universe.

According to the history of shopping centers provided by Consumer Reports (1986, for other histories of the shopping center see Jacobs, 1985; Kowinski, 1985) shopping centers had their birth in the 1920's in California where supermarkets would anchor and serve as a magnet for a strip of smaller stores. According to Samuel Feinberg (1960) shopping centers got their start a bit earlier, in 1907, in a Baltimore neighborhood where a group of stores established off-street parking. In 1922 The Country Club Plaza in suburban Kansas City, a group of stores only accessible by car, was built. In 1931 the Highland Park Shopping Village in Dallas became the first group of stores that had its own parking lot with the stores facing away from the access road. The first enclosed mall was developed in a suburb of Minneapolis in 1956. Designed to get the shopper out of the harsh weather, it introduced the world to shopping complexes as worlds unto themselves--free from bad weather, life, crime, dirt and troubles. It is somehow fitting that the largest mall in the United States, called "The Mall of America," is now nearing completion outside Minneapolis.

Whatever and wherever its start, the phenomenal growth and development of shopping centers naturally followed the migration of population out from the cities and paralleled the growth of the use of the automobile. By 1960 there were 4500 malls accounting for 14% of retail sales. By 1975 there were 16,400 shopping centers accounting for 33% of retail sales . In 1987, there were 30,000 malls accounting for over 50% of all retail dollars spent (about 676 billion dollars, 8% of the labor force, and 13% of our gross national product--Keinfield, 1986; Turchiana, 1990).

Malls are now the retail, social and community centers of their communities. Indeed, shopping malls are the center pieces for rejuvenation of urban centers (e.g., City-Center Indianapolis, Faneuil Hall - Boston, South Street Seaport - New York City, Harbour Place Baltimore). 'Some malls are so large that they are communities. Chicago's Water Tower place has hotels, restaurants, offices, stores, restaurants, and residential units. The West Edmonton Mall in Canada, The largest mall in the world, has over 800 stores, ice skating, 24 movie screens.

Despite unsupported forecasts that the country is over-malled (e.g., Turchiana, 1990) the increasing dominance of malls seems inevitable (Ballard, 1981; Burstiner, 1986). Many of these malls will be smaller strip centers ("Overbuilding: A real...," 1987), but there are plans for mega-malls modeled after the Edmonton Mall (Martin, 1987).

The competitive environment that a mall faces today is considerably different from that faced in their early days when their primary competition was a downtown business district. Many of the best "locations" are gone so that a mall's primary competition is now likely to be another mall. Shopping malls- appear to be in a mature phase of the retail life cycle where market shares and sales may be leveling off (Sternlieb & Hughs, 1981). The challenges that face developers within this context will have to become more consumer oriented in the sense that more attention will need to be paid to the why, when, what, who, where, and how's of the consumer when it comes to all aspects of "the shopping mall" (for a complete review of published articles on shopping centers before 1982 see Dawson, 1982).

Research on Shopping Malls

Research on mall issues can be characterized as mainly centering on models of mall patronage/choice (e.g., Cox & Cooke, 1970; Howell & Rogers, 1981). These models have been guided by retail gravitational approaches. These approaches assume that a mall will be differentially attractive as a function of their utility. Research has identified a variety of factors that could define the utility of a mall: distance traveled - Bucklin, 1971; travel time - Brunner & Mason, 1968; accessibility Bucklin & Gautschi, 1983; size of mall -Bucklin, 1967; number of brands carried - Crask, 1979; number of stores - Weisbrod, Parcells, & Kern, 1984. The inability of these various studies to adequately account for mall patronage has led to studies focusing on more "subjective" types of variables such as social factors (Feinberg, Meoli, & Sheffler, 1989) and mall image and mall image variables (e.g., Gentry & Burns, 1977-1978; Nevin & Houston, 1980). Unfortunately these too have not led to overwhelming success and acceptance.

The enviable success and impact of the shopping mall may have something to do with the potential of shopping malls to enhance community life. There is no conflict between shopping malls, profits, and people. The basis for a shopping mall is to make it an "indispensable servant of the community" (Rouse, 1962). Right now consumer research seems to be on the sidelines of this phenomena. However, like the lead pack dog, since the mall is at its basics a consumer phenomenon, consumer researchers should be making the dust, not eating it.


Ballard, C. (1981), 'Trends in Retail Development: 1980's and Beyond," In George Sternlieb and James Hughes (Eds), Shopping Centers: USA, New Jersey: State University of New Jersey, Center For Urban Policy Research.

Bombeck, E (1985), "Lost Forever In A Shopping Mall," The Daily News, Sunday- December 22, p. 16.

Brunner, J., and Mason, J. (1968), "The Influence Of Driving Time Upon Shopping Center Performance," Journal of Marketing, 32, 57-61.

Bucklin, L. (1967), 'The Concept In Mass In Intra-urban Shopping," Journal of Marketing, 32, 32-36.

Bucklin, L. (1971), "Retail Gravity Models and Consumer Choice: A Theoretical and Empirical Critique," Economic Geography,47, 489-497.

Bucklin, L. and Gautschi, D. (1983), "The Importance Of Travel Mode Factors in the Patronage of Retail Centers," In William Darden and Robert Lusch (Eds), Patronage and Retail Management, New York: Elsevier Science Publishing Company.

Burstiner, I. (1986), "Retailing For the Next Twenty Years: Looking Forward In Time," Basic Retailing, Il: Irwin Publishing, 648-671.

Consumer Reports (1986), I'll Buy that: 50 small wonders and big deals that revolutionized the lives of consumers, New York: Consumers Union of the United States .

Cox, W., and Cooke,E. (1970), "Other Dimensions Involved In Shopping Center Preference," Journal of Marketing, 34, 12-17.

Crask, M. (1979), "A Simulation Model of Patronage Behavior Within Shopping Centers," Decision Sciences, 10, 1 -15.

Dawson, J. (1982), Shopping Centers: A Bibliography, Il: Council of Planning Librarians.

Feinberg, R., Meoli, J., dc Sheffler, B (1989), "There's Something Social Happening At The Mall," Journal of Business and Psychology, 4, 44-63.

Feinberg, S (1960), What Makes Shopping Malls Tick, New York: Fairchild Publications.

Gentry, J., and Burns, A. (1977-1978), "How Important Are Evaluative Criteria In Shopping Center Patronage," Journal of Retailing, 53, 7386.

Gruen, V., and Smith, L. (1960), Shopping Towns, U.SA.: The Planning of Shopping Centers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Howell, R., and Rogers, J. (1981), "Research Into Shopping Mall Choice Behavior,", In K. Monroe (Ed.), Advances In Consumer Research, 8, MI: Association for Consumer Research, 671-676.

Jacobs, J. (1986), The Mall: An Attempted Escape From Everyday Life, IL: Waveland Press.

Keinfeld, N. (1986), "Why Everyone Goes To The Mall," The New York Times, December 21, Sec 3, F1, F33.

Kowinski, W (1985) The Malling Of America: An Inside Look At The Great Consumer Paradise, New York: W. Morrow.

Martin, D. (1987), "Behemoth On The Prairie: In Edmonton The World's Largest Mall Mixes Shopping And Show Business," The New York Times, January 4, 19-20, 29.

Nevin, J., and Houston, M. (1980), ''Image As A Component Of Attraction to Intra-urban Shopping Areas," Journal of Retailing, 56, 77-93.

"Overbuilding: A Real or Imagined Issue" (1987), Chain Store Age Executive, 63, 48-50.

Rouse, J. (1962), "Must Shopping Centers Be Inhuman," Architectural Forum, 116, 105-119.

Sternlieb, G., and Hughs, J. (1981), Shopping Centers: USA, New Jersey: State University of New Jersey, Center For Urban Policy Research.

Turchiana, F. (1990), "The Unmalling of America," American Demographics, April, 36-39.

Weisbrod, G., Parcells, R., and Kern, C. (1984), "A Disaggregate Model For Predicting Shopping Area Market Attraction," Journal of Retailing, 60, 65-83.



Richard A. Feinberg, Purdue University
Jennifer Meoli, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18 | 1991

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