They always catch your eye. A welcome relief from unending suburbs. You hope and wonder if there is more there than there ever is. Small strip malls, affectionately known as strippers, have been a fixture on the American scene since the 1920’s. Each displays its own personality, fostered by time and circumstances. They served as placeholders for property, models for larger developments, extensions of city services, and enterprise centers for small business. They were built to sell. Many were caught in gaps, unable to change, fixed to a spot. Only the cast of businesses occupying them changed over time.
As new street car lines appeared in the 20’s, city dwellers could move to calmer locations. The suburbs were born. Land speculators, who bought large expanses of land, needed a way to pay property taxes. They built strip malls along these lines to carry the burden of taxes until grander buildings could be built. Made of simple construction material the owner could reuse later, they were never intended to last. Despite this, many did.
Then came the automobile. Parking spaces were added to the strippers. Many still proved too small to accommodate traffic. Larger and larger malls of various configurations were built, eventually culminating in the giant malls of today. Small strip malls fell by the wayside, trapped in time with too small of a land footprint to develop.
Most now hold marginal businesses as tenants. Ones that add new personality both to building and neighborhood. They still remain a springboard for enterprise starts. Overtime, many remained iconic simple structures. Some please the eye and some not, but no one can argue they remain a colorful part of the suburbs.
The Death and Life of Great American Strip Malls by Mathew J. Manning
The Sad Evolution of the Strip Mall by Sarah Goodyear
A Brief History of the Mall by Richard Feinberg