Difference between Shopping Center, Plaza, and Strip Mall

I think Orland Park is a classic example of a “Shopping Center”. Orland Square is the major mall, but there are clusters of retail stores located in various parts of the area encompassing 159th St. from Harlem Ave. to LaGrange Road.

What do you call those big strip malls featuring a large parking lot with strips of shops on three or four of its sides?

Lifestyle center is the new term for those “decanted” former malls, which are basically turned into strip malls/centers. It’s a term used more in development and realty circles though, I don’t think the general public is very familiar with it. Ye Olde Towne Centre :rolleyes:

I’d still call that a strip mall. The lifestyle centers at least have a pedestrian-only zone or a main street-esque drive as part of the package, rather than a continuous expanse of unbroken parking. Sure older strip malls can be gussied up and may take on some characteristics of their more upscale brethren, but the form is more important than the dressing.

A few people have suggested that strip malls or strip centers generally only have a single row of parking in front, but that seems like a hyper-local interpretation to me. If it has long rows of stores (whether they bend around a corner or not) with parking in front then it’s a strip mall/center. Older ones tended to be mostly if not entirely smaller stores, but newer ones have some larger stores like TJ Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, or Michael’s mixed in.

Neptunian Slug mentioned the power center, which has gotten a lot more common, but which few people recognize. It’s basically a collection of big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Dick’s, Meijer, Costco, and generally some of the not-quite-as-big box stores like the aforementioned TJ Maxx, Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as Petsmart, Best Buy, Big Lots, and the like. Any smaller retailers, tire shops, or outlot restaurants are rather perfunctory.

Of course there’s mixes of everything. If there’s a bunch of big boxes, and small stores is it a strip mall or a power center? Sometimes a single property can evolve from a traditional indoor mall to a strip mall to a power center (I’m looking at you Deerbrook Mall [Illinois]).

To me, that would still be a strip mall, or just generic “shopping plaza.”

To me, when I imagine a strip mall it has only one side, small parking lot, no outbuildings, and faces the main street. I wouldn’t quibble if someone described a strip mall that didn’t have the latter three features, but two sides would make it a “shopping center”. A lot of other things can be shopping centers, but I don’t have a specific word for shopping centers that have more than one side, a decent sized parking lot, and outbuildings.

I don’t really have a definition of “plaza” since a lot of different types of places label themselves plaza.

Same for me - the defining characteristics of a strip mall for me are a 1) single strip of stores 2) a parking lot with only two rows ( at least for most of it) Two sides of stores or outbuildings and I’d call it a “shopping center”
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I also mark a difference between a single strip of stores and two or more sides of stores. The first is a strip mall, the second a shopping center or plaza.

But large numbers of newer strip malls have many more than two rows of parking. The smaller amount of parking just indicates age to me, not a definition.

It probably has a lot to do with where I live ( where most stores do not have any parking at all) , but to me, this is a strip mall . Google Maps and something like this https://www.google.com/maps/place/T.J.+Maxx/@40.7836017,-73.831519,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipM7P8co3PNxt0Bda9oV8k74f3rPKMhufmtvj_JD!2e10!3e12!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipM7P8co3PNxt0Bda9oV8k74f3rPKMhufmtvj_JD%3Dw114-h86-k-no!7i2576!8i1932!4m12!1m6!3m5!1s0x89c28ab1cdbe85f7:0x8295053afb362464!2sTarget!8m2!3d40.7838322!4d-73.8332496!3m4!1s0x89c28aa54bffffff:0xc6790fc7ec06e1e0!8m2!3d40.7836016!4d-73.8315187 is not, even if there is only a single strip of stores. Of course, the type of store is different also, but around here, you would never see a TJ Maxx with only two rows of parking, nor a strip including a Rite Aid , Dunkin Donuts and a Pearle Vision with a parking lot large enough for many more than two rows of parking.

To me the key feature of a strip mall is that the stores are one-after-another*. There may be bends in the line but that hardly matters.

So near us is a strip mall that sits on a corner and has two 45 bends to “round off” the corner as it were. Why this would belong to a separate category from straight strip malls is beyond me.

  • Not counting outliers like gas stations, Fotomats converted into coffee huts, etc.

Here’s a historical article about Wynnewood Village in Dallas, which opened in 1949. That was the classic suburban “shopping center,” with a large department store, a supermarket and a movie theater as its anchors, and acres upon acres of free parking.

I think that what the rest of us are referring to are configurations like an “L” in which the long end is perpendicular to the street and the short end is well away from the street, allowing for a huge parking lot, very little of which stretches alongside the street.

Which explains why the modern American usage of ‘mall’ never really took off in the UK. We already have THE Mall, which, it should be added, is probably the most important ceremonial thoroughfare in London leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace.

We tend to still use ‘shopping centre’. We also don’t use ‘strip mall’. I think ‘retail park’ would be the closest British term, though these tend to be larger than the typical US strip mall.

ETA: Many British shopping centres do use ‘mall’ as a marketing term, but I don’t think many punters actually use the term. It’s just an Americanism too far… :wink:


We also have a prominent Mall in our capital city, though, and it didn’t stop us.

I remember how disappointed I was when I learned the community had turned out worn out old mall into a “lifestyle center,” when I realized it was a few cosmetic changes to the same mall

Cleveland also has a few Arcades, which I’m not sure how to classify. The Old Arcade downtown consists of a pedestrian public area stretching from one entrance on Superior to another on Euclid, with a couple of stories of shops on either side (though I think now most of the shops have closed). It seems to fit every standard of the American notion of “mall” (aside from the nonexistent parking, I suppose), but no Clevelander would ever call it that, probably because it predates the concept of “shopping malls”. And there’s another similar Arcade between, I think, Euclid and Prospect.

Also downtown are Tower City and The Galleria, both of which do get called malls (except I think the Galleria is now defunct). Tower City probably would be defunct, too, except it’s kept alive by being the city’s primary public transit hub, and having a mostly-enclosed walkway to the Indians stadium and Cavs arena, as well as being in the same building complex as the casino.

Then there are things like the Gordon Square Arcade, which doesn’t have any arches, but was probably named after the Old Arcade. That’s a set of retail spaces in one building along Detroit with parking meters in front and a small lot in back. The main entrances to the retail spaces are all from the street, but there’s also an enclosed hallway behind the retail spaces that connects to all of them.

A big difference is a strip mall is a series of independent shops with no real central administration while a mall does have an administration to regulate hours, public and common areas, security, etc.

The individual units of a strip mall are all usually owned by the same entity, and rented out to the shops. So there will be whatever central organization is in the terms of the lease.

If nothing else, there needs to be some sort of agreement on things like who maintains the parking lot and to what standard.

Some of my friends ran game stores in strip malls that did have some minimum hours set, but they were definitely less restrictive than malls, which they mentioned as an advantage.

I would say a shopping center is just a large grocery or department store accompanied by a set of strip malls beside or around it. So two sides wouldn’t negate it being called a strip mall, but the strip mall is just a component of the larger shopping center.

“Plaza” is just a meaningless buzzword. Shopping centers, hotels and water parks all often have names that include the word “plaza”. It just sounds fancier to business folks than “store”, I guess.

Central Indiana terminology here, as I recall- Shopping center is the oldest term. It’s a group of stores sharing a parking lot, usually arranged in a linear fashion. There could be just a few to many stores there, with one or multiple buildings. Plazas are just shopping centers, but usually had the stores surrounding a central parking lot. Malls are the big enclosed affairs with many stores inside. Strip malls are simply late-model smaller shopping centers and would have been called such fifty years ago. Now there are town centers, such as Hamilton Town Center, with streets and intersections and many buildings and stores. HTC has 98 stores.