New malls surrounding one big parking lot

So in the late 90’s I’ve noticed the new malls going up consist of stand-alone buildings ringing a huge central parking lot, rather than the usual single mall complex surrounded by parking.

I’m not sure who this benefits. It makes it really inconvenient to visit more than a particular store, so I imagine “browsing” is down, which the stores don’t like.

The huge lots look ugly, and I’d need to find my car, merge in to traffic again, find a parking space, and park to get to any other store, meaning I usually don’t. (this I don’t like).

So what’s the deal? Is there some shopping theory, tax loophole, or demented civic designer at work or what?

I think what you’re describing is referred to as a “big box” store. From that link:

The OP is referring to a grouping of big box stores and smaller retailers called a Power Center.

Interesting to find out that sort of development has its own term. There are a couple I know of where I live – and they’re massive.

We used to call 'em “strip malls”, but now they’re growing around and closing us in. I agree with the OP, they’re stupid. Look, if I’m in Best Buy, I may, on impulse, decide to check out Ulta for cosmetics. But the way these things are set up, it’s too far to walk, and too close to justify moving the car. Add it those damn locking shopping carts, and it’s just all too much hassle.

There’s a strip mall, (in a line, not a circle), near me whose shopping cart locks activate somewhere in between stores. So when I try to park halfway between the Jewel and the Target (on either end), the damn cart locks up before I can get to my car to unload my Target purchases before going into Jewel. Three times now, I’ve nearly dislocated an arm when the full cart slams on its breaks and stops suddenly. (Three times because I’m trying to find the sweet spot where they might overlap. No dice.) Then I’ve got to figure out how to get a cart full of stuff plus a toddler to the car three aisles over without someone stealing whatever I leave in the cart for my second trip. It’s like that mind-teaser about the farmer crossing the river with a chicken and fox and a bag of grain…

Shopping areas like this have been going up like crazy near here. Basically, it’s a series of really long strip malls with big box stores as anchors and a matching decoration scheme.

My theory: all public architecture/site planning is now centered around the car instead of the pedestrian. If you look closely, you’ll find lots of examples of the pedestrian being an afterthought. Sidewalks that contort around bits of landscaping for no reason, that end on one side of a driveway but don’t start again on the other side, or that take a really long route that no one would walk.

So yes, you really are expected to get back in your car and drive over to the other side of the complex to visit that other store.

I don’t know if I’m more mad at the architects for assuming laziness in all of us, or for noticing it.

What is this? Carts with auto locks? That’s insane!

Do like Daie in Hawaii: have a mechanism where you need to put a quarter into the top of the cart to get it to unchain from the others. When you lock your cart back up, it spits your quarter out.

Anything else is just insulting.

If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, then my observation is that the non-anchor stores that tend to land in these places are generally stores that someone might make a destination of – Radio Shack, cellular service, tux rentals, etc – the kind of stores that normally rent at the far end of the mall anyhow. What you will not see is the places that feed off of foot traffic and impulse purchases, such as T-shirt shops and other teen-crap hangouts. So my guess is that these centers offer mid-size retailers lower rents, since there’s no indoor common area to maintain, but have more draw and name recognition than a typical strip mall.

And its not really fair to say that you need to move your car, you can walk across the parking lot, you just won’t have a sidewalk and climate control for the journey.

One thing to consider: a lot of cities mandate “you must have X number of parking spaces for Y square feet of store”. If the mall set-up allows stores to “share” parking spaces then the total amount of paving is less. This works particularly well when some stores have ‘day-time’ customers and other stores/restaurants have ‘night-time’ customers.

While the initial economic impact of a new power center can be substantial (construction costs, employment generation, new utitlities to previously under-served areas), the long term costs tend to make them only a temporary proposition.

Power centers tend to attract smaller retail spaces and service providers to the out-parcels surrounding them. These, in turn, draw more shoppers. As the demand for more services and choices increases, the land that is used for parking increases in value such that you’ve got a parking lot that can (and should) be better used for additional retail square footage. For instance, we have a power center here that has been in about 5 years. It was developed on unrestricted property, so there was very little we could do in the way of site design. Now, the properties in the area are going for approximately $1 million per acre. The developers now have some very expensive parking that is only used a portion of the time. They are seriously considering redeveloping the site in a denser, pedestrian-scaled method that would allow them to get more square footage and realize the value of the land. We’re pushing them in that direction and suggesting structured parking (even though that is extremely expensive to construct).

And NinetyWt is correct - zoning ordinances have a slightly reduced gross parking requirement for shopping centers than for individual stores to account for shared parking.

There’s another reason for it, too. It’s called “capping” , and is one of the ways cities deal with polluted soil. That link is from California, but it’s being done everywhere - my Dad worked for a general contractor who built a “big box” strip mall over a Superfund site in Cincinnati about 15 years ago.

Turns out that covering fouled earth with a parking lot is cheaper and safer than just about any other solution. The next best choice (in terms of avoiding litigation) is to burn the soil at super-high temps, which kills it dead (the dirt, that is) and transfers a small amount of the pollution to the air.

That’s interesting. I work in a field associated with construction out here in Chicago and the big thing these days are “Lifestyle centers” which are outdoor malls with tons of pedestrian access and walkways, fountains, flower gardens, children’s areas, etc. If anyone local is reading this, think Oak Brook mall or the newly opened Promenade mall in Bolingbrook. Hell, Promenade Bolingbrook even has open air concerts and stuff. I’ve seen two more plan sets for Promenade style malls come across my desk in the past year or so.

I know this doesn’t answer the OP, I’m just interested because it seems like we’re going in the opposite direction out here.

Another thing to consider is that it is probably cheaper for developers and retailers to make more parking spaces rather than the extra expense of covered, air-conditioned, insured, cleaned, and securitied malls. Does anyone have the straight dope on rent and facilities charges on covered versus non covered malls? I’d bet it’s a lot higher in the malls per square foot, even if you are saving a bit on air conditioning for the store per se by being next to other buildings.

Ironic. You’re describing what Golf Mill used to be like about 25 years ago before it was “modernized” and changed from an open-air mall to an enclosed building. I wonder how long before someone decides to rip off the roof and return to its roots?

Malls and power centers and strip malls are all devices that have evolved to different types and needs of shopping and the different types of stores that cater to those shoppers.

Malls are anchored by large department stores (although more big box stores can be found in them these days because of the consolidation of the department store industry due to falling sales). In between the department stores are stores… that contain the same goods as department stores. These are mostly shops that sell clothing, shoes, and accessories. It makes economic sense to bunch these together because people like to comparison shop and search through a number of places to find the exact items they want. It’s expected that they will buy items in one place and carry them to other stores to complete an outfit. This means that indoor, climate-controlled conditions with easy pedestrian access are the preferred shopping environment. Not every store in a mall falls into this category, but the general scheme applies. Malls are designed to keep shoppers there as long as possible as well, which is why they have food courts and other amusements to rest you, and the controlled climate to make the stay as pleasant as possible.

Power centers are anchored by stores that tend to be destinations in and of themselves and sell goods that are often large and bulky. Best Buy, Home Depot. Even the discounters like Target, Kohls or Wal-mart, which do much of their business in clothing, are set up for bulk purchasing of larger goods. It makes sense that you would want to take these purchases directly to a car rather than carry them on foot to another store. People do go there for small portable items, of course, but that’s not the core of their business and the power center parking lot is set up to make access to and cartage of items most convenient for their shopping core. The same applies to shopping centers anchored by supermarkets. You will get a series of stores that live off the traffic generated, but you don’t see people hauling their groceries into these stores to make additional purchases. It’s car-store-car-store-car.

Strip malls contain a smaller number of convenience stores. These are geared for quick in-and-out shopping and the size of the store and the size of the parking lot reflect this. It’s possible that you will want to hit a minimart, a video store, a dry cleaners, and a pizza place all in one visit, but it’s far more likely that you will stop at these stores individually on separate trips.

I’d guess that you don’t notice or complain about any inconvenience when you use these sites as a core customer. It’s only when you need to break out of that category that you realize they are not set up optimally for any other pattern. However, there is no known pattern that would be equally convenient for both types of shoppers. If there were, we’d see it.

Thanks everyone; that’s some facinating information about power centers… interestingly that Wikipedia article mentions South Edmonton Common, which I pass on the way home and was the 2nd place I was thinking of. (The first being Leduc Common, near where I work).