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Old 05-21-2015, 01:04 PM
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: New England
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Difference between Shopping Center, Plaza, and Strip Mall

I tend to think of a shopping center as bigger than a plaza, and a strip mall as a place like this. Is there a real difference between the three or is it just marketing?
Old 05-21-2015, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Dallas, TX
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Strip malls are fairly clearly defined- they're almost always a single row of shops sharing the same building, with an open sidewalk out front, (a "strip" of stores) and a large parking lot between the strip mall and the street.

Shopping center is more of a catch-all term, in that you could describe a classic indoor mall as a shopping center, and you could also describe a strip mall as a shopping center.

Plaza... etymologically, it means an open public space; it's a Spanish cognate to the Italian "piazza", and means roughly the same thing as "Square" in English.

So the idea behind calling a shopping center of some kind a "plaza" is to try and attribute more of a community focal point feel to it than calling it a strip mall or shopping center. That's my guess anyway.
Old 05-21-2015, 01:15 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Florida
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Originally Posted by boffking View Post
I tend to think of a shopping center as bigger than a plaza, and a strip mall as a place like this.
That's just "a mall" to most people, I think.

I agree with bump: a strip mall is not actually a mall at all, just a series of stores (generally) oriented in the same direction, sharing a parking lot, and all part of the same building. Like this.

I don't think "plaza" has any fixed meaning in terms of retail venues, though you might expect it to be an open parking lot surrounded by shops.
Old 05-21-2015, 01:20 PM
Join Date: Nov 2013
Posts: 946
Here in sunny So Cal, we have fully enclosed "shopping malls" and we also have open court "shopping plazas." One has a roof over the public spaces and the other doesn't.
Old 05-21-2015, 01:54 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Florida
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We have those in sunny Florida, too, but they tend to be called "town centers". Ironic, since the suburban shopping mall is what killed central shopping districts.
Old 05-21-2015, 02:07 PM
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Deep Space
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I agree with the given definition of strip mall, though ones near me often have a standalone fast food store located across the parking lot from the big building, so that it could have a drive-through window.
Shopping centers typically have several unconnected buildings, often with the parking lot separating them. None of the public spaces are enclosed.

I agree that Plaza is more of a marketing term to make the shopping center seem more upscale.
Old 05-21-2015, 05:32 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Calgary
Posts: 1,142
To me a Mall is enclosed monstrosity with department stores, a hundred small shops including multiple jewelry, shoe and clothing stores. There is possibly a cinema and a grocery store, and several restaurants, and probably a food court, all in the same huge building so you never have to go outside. This is where mall cops work and kids go when they 'go to the mall'. The Blues Brothers have car chases in a mall. They are visible from space.

A strip mall is smaller and you have to go outside to get from one store to another. A shopping center is any place with more than one store.
Old 05-21-2015, 08:14 PM
UDS UDS is offline
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"Mall" started off life as the name for the court or alley where the (originally Italian) game of pall-mall was played. (Pall-mall involved using a mallet to hit a wooden ball through a suspended iron hoop at one end of the alley, using the lowest possible number of strokes.)

There was a public mall in St. James's Park in London in the seventeenth century which, when the game wasn't actually being played, became a popular place for strolling, meeting people, being seen, etc. It was (and is) known simply as The Mall.

In time the game ceased to be played at all, and "mall" came to indicate a public, open-air place for promenading, with little or no wheeled traffic. It was firmly established in that sense by the mid-eighteenth century.

It wasn't until the late 1950s that it came to be used, intitially in America and in due course in Australia and New Zealand, for a shopping precinct in which shops are grouped around a pedestrianised open area, usually containing booths, kiosks, refreshment stalls, etc, and places to sit. Initially "mall" was only applied to centres in which the concourse was open-air, but in time it came to be used for places with a covered concourse and, with the arrival of strip-mall, to places which might have no concourse at all.

"Plaza", orginally from Spanish as a name for any paved public area, has developed a similar sense in US English - a paved concourse surrounded by shops and businesses. I'm going to hazard a guess that, initially, this sense of "plaza" may have developed more in the south and west of the US, with "mall" developing in the north and east. With the arrival of the strip mall, however, "mall" may have become less useful as a marketing term, so "plaza" may have gained wider currency.
Old 05-21-2015, 09:47 PM
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I've seen malls called "plaza" which were a big building surrounded by lots of parking space; any reference to the Spanish meaning is lost, but then, so is it when used by hotels. Unless you want to go other Spanish meanings (4 and 5) in which it is cognate with the English "place", that is... but I don't think the people choosing the names are trying to be subtle. They're just trying to be fancy.
Old 05-22-2015, 09:05 AM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Missoula, Montana, USA
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
We have those in sunny Florida, too, but they tend to be called "town centers". Ironic, since the suburban shopping mall is what killed central shopping districts.
Except, of course, for places like Missoula, which have both an enclosed shopping mall and a vibrant downtown shopping district, co-existing pretty happily, or at least happily enough the shopping mall is mostly full of stores and patrons and the downtown is likely doing better than the mall overall.

Missoula also has a number of smaller strip malls and shopping plazas, however defined, none of which are dead but a few, perhaps, may be dying.

So it can be done, you just need enough horizontal space to spread out a bit and break up the shopping centers with residential and mixed-use districts.
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Old 05-22-2015, 02:37 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Long Island, NY
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AFAIK, "shopping center" is an archaic phrase that was replaced by "mall" sometime in the 1970s. Every "shopping center" that I went to when I was a kid has been renamed "mall" around '76 or '77.

"Plaza," as noted above, is just a name for a large public space.

A "strip mall" is a single row of connected stores and/or restaurants all facing out into the street or a small parking lot, often with additional parking in the back.
Old 05-23-2015, 10:29 AM
ftg ftg is offline
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Note that the center owner can attach any label they want. So terms like "Plaza" and "Promenade" and such get stuck on to anything from strip malls to enclosed malls.

"Plaza" was pretty popular when I was a kid including two near me. One was a standard strip mall, the other was a semi-enclosed mall (roofed, but not completely walled in) that was later completely enclosed.

"Strip mall" has such a negative connotation most people wouldn't use it to describe their own property.

None of these terms really mean anything official. Not even "Dirt mall".
Old 05-23-2015, 02:09 PM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 87
Check this out for some history on the shopping mall. It'll provide a lot of context for the definition of a shopping mall, which is a more deliberate and elaborate idea than "put some stores next to each other."

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