Let’s Go to the Mall!

Whether people intend (plan) to buy or only window-shop (look without buying), shopping malls have become popular destinations (places to go) around the world. “Let’s go to the mall,” is heard often in many households (people who live together, usually families) and many languages.

An article on The New Yorker web site tells the story of Victor Gruen, the man many people call the creator of the modern shopping mall. I was fascinated by his story and by the “science” of mall design.

Gruen grew up in Vienna. As a young man, he studied architecture (the design of buildings) during the day, and performed with his friends in cabarets (restaurants or clubs with live music and dance performances) in the evening. In 1938, he immigrated from Germany to the U.S. to escape Nazi persecution (cruel treatment) of the Jews. When he arrived in the U.S., he said he had “an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English.”

One day Gruen went for a walk in downtown New York and met a friend who wanted to open a leather-goods (products, like purses, made from leather) boutique (a small store selling fashionable products) on Fifth Avenue, a popular location for exclusive (fashionable and expensive) shops. Gruen agreed to design the shop and came up with a new idea that some called a “customer trap” – an area to attract customers and pull them into the store. Let me explain.

Up until this time, the fronts of most stores were flat. Gruen changed that. He created an open space outside at the front of the store – shaped like a “U” – with glass cases to display (show) the products. He also added special lighting and a special floor. Many customers who walked into this space – called an arcade – to look at the products continued into the store to buy something they first saw outside.

Gruen began his most famous project – Southdale in Edina, Minnesota – more than 50 years ago. It was the first of the modern malls. There were no windows on the outside; the fronts of all the stores faced (looked toward) the inside of the mall. The entire mall – with 72 stores – was under one roof and it was heated and air-conditioned. Gruen put the stores on two levels connected by escalators (moving stairs) and added two levels of parking outside the mall. In the middle of the mall he created a kind of town square with a fishpond, artificial (not live) trees, a cage of colorful birds, hanging plants, and a cafe. It was, according to news stories, a sensation (exciting, very interesting)!

I’m always fascinated by why things are done a certain way. The “science” of mall design used by Gruen – his reasons for doing things the way he did – has been borrowed and further developed (added to) by other mall designers. Here are some of the popular mall design ideas:

  • Always include two or more anchor stores – large, popular stores that will attract people to the mall. Put the anchor stores at opposite ends of the mall to create as much foot traffic (people walking) as possible for the smaller stores in between them.
  • Alfred Taubman, another mall designer, says malls should have two levels with escalators at each end. This allows a customer to come into the mall, walk along one level, take the escalator up or down, walk back along the other level, and easily return to his or her car.
  • Put the escalators at the end of the mall – near the anchor stores – so shoppers have to walk past more stores to get to them.
  • Taubman also puts more parking on the upper level than the lower level. “People flow like water,” he says. “They go down easier than they go up” and they’ll visit more of the mall if they start at the top level.
  • Make the handrails on the second level transparent (easy to see through) so shoppers can look through them and see all the stores.
  • Be sure the main corridors (where people walk) are no more than one-thousand feet (about 300 meters) long – if people have to walk farther than that, they lose interest in shopping.
  • Keep related stores near each other – for example, put a Johnson & Murphy shoe store near a Brooks Brothers clothing store where a man might buy a new suit so he can get everything he needs without walking far.

Modern designers have experimented with many new ideas. The next time you visit a mall, take time to look around. See if you can identify some of the things the designers have done to give you a good experience and, of course, to encourage you to buy … buy … buy …!

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where you’ll always find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

 Shopping mall photo by J. Franganillo used under Creative Commons license.

This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Let’s Go to the Mall!

  1. Sergio says:

    Other two things, Warren:
    » you never can see how outside the weather is;
    » no clocks at the walls to remember you the flowing time…
    A French anthropologist and sociologist – Marc Augé – called that: NO PLACE (like EuroDisney, GardaLand and so on).
    (Notice that in some language “time” and “weather” have one word: “temps” in French and “tempo” in Italian… And in Spanish, Emiliano? “Tiempo”?)
    The moral of the story is: with you also studying English we don’t forget… to think!
    “Good job”, you would say.

  2. emiliano says:

    Psychologists more than designers I think, but it is an interesting subject to know how was the beginning of the
    big Malls and who was the first designer.

    Around Madrid outsides there are lots of them. Which ever route you take there are a large group of big buildings
    and a huge, very huge Mall where you may find every kind of articles to buy.
    Restaurants, theaters-movies and another kind of amenities to pass the time watching or buying things.

    Years ago it was a way of passing a day for some families or people in general and there were lots of shopping, now
    everything is changing and there is not enough money to spend so it is possible some of these huge Malls have
    to close in a short time.
    The big decreasing consumption are working havoc through all kind of these shopping places.

    Thank you Warren, it is nice to have this information and next time I´ll go to some Mall I´ll be observing how
    the structure is developed.


  3. emiliano says:

    That´s right dear Sergio, we use the same word to speak about the weather and time as a measurement of the days, hours
    or years.
    Good time (in Spanish)…..is good weather
    There is a splendid good weather……..we say…there is a splendid time
    I do think that for an english person this is really confusing.

    Just the same as the use of two verbs in Spanish ( ser y estar) when English has only one……to be.
    Another two in Spanish (haber y tener) but only one in English……to have.

    In my humble opinion here English language could be a little much poor than Italian, French or Spanish
    but it could be easier instead.
    Or not? because in English it is necessary to use another expression to remark circumstantials events
    like……”you look beautiful” instead of “you are beautiful” and so on.
    For us the use of the two verbs make the difference.
    “Estas hermosa” “Eres hermosa”…absolutely different “eres” is the quality and “estas” it is just for
    the moment.

    Sorry Jeff, Lucy and Warren I am taken the role of a Spanish teacher
    that´s incredible funny.
    Dear Sergio you are the nice inductor as you know how to touch the fiber of people.


  4. Peter says:

    Hi Warren
    Long time no post
    As usual you came up with an unconventional post.
    The thing is I m not a big fan of malls to begin with.
    There is nothing exciting about them. They are all alike, long corridors with a series of similar stores at both side offering different products.
    Everything in malls just repeat itself; No
    Creativity ,no variety that makes the whole experience of mall hopping dull and boring .very depressing in deed
    Prefer to shop At an independent boutique on a business district.
    I never step foot on one if those malls again
    I went shopping in there once ,after 30 minutes hanging out in there I was gonna hang myself. Everything Is the same.
    Going to malls make me depress
    I never do this again,not even for all the tea in china
    I wouldn’t touch their doors even with a ten foot pol
    But,it is just me
    I can speak for myself
    But,I think Jeff is with me on that

  5. Who doesn’t enjoy to go to a mall and buy as much as the money is enough? Mall is a good place to go with children on Saturdays and Sundays, even though you don’t have anythingh to buy, just walk around.
    Jeff was very fortunate to show this subject, as always.

  6. Peter says:

    Miseary has a knack for following me,
    Your post is appealing to most women out there.
    Have you ever been with a girl in a mall.
    It is tormenting ,big time.
    They spend hours going through cloths ,purses ,and whatnot in a mall.
    And,in the end ,they leave the mall empty handed but totally satisfied for wasting their precious time going through stuff that they didn’t intend to buy in the first place.
    U feel like you want to bang your head against one of those outfront showcases.
    I happened to go malling(a coinage of mine) with two gorlfriend of mine at the time.
    Believe you me,I broke up with the two of them right in the mall ,since it was not worth it.
    Too much
    No girl worth going to mall with them.
    Poor married guys,
    Going to malls with your better halves is a cornerstone of marriage ,isn’t it?
    If you tell them you don’t wanna go

    It is like you tell them that they are fat:)

  7. Øyvor says:


    Thanks for this information, I had no idea this idea was so old!
    By the way, I avoid these malls, and luckily I live far away from them=)

  8. Øyvor says:

    To Peter!

    Hi=) Have to tell you that I find your comments very interesting, your language is amazing,
    can I use them as my lessons in addition to Jeff`s?? Guess you live in US=)

  9. Peter says:

    U know what
    Warren I got to hand it to you
    Your posts always are spiced up to test:)))
    There is sth about them that draws a lot of attention and contemplation.
    You know what ,I have some kind of existential philosophy that shapes my outlook ,and go malling is not one of them:)

  10. Peter says:

    By they way,
    I wanna point out the fact that market is very volatile now and some belt-tightening is in order. My guess is in this market , the number of people who visit malls are increasingly shrinking
    Don’t you think guys ?

  11. Peter says:

    You know
    The economy is going on tank again with all the USA discussion about raising the debt cap
    How come you never discussed it on the blog
    I bet jeff is gonna open up about it

  12. emiliano says:

    Years ago when I use to go a big mall or another kind of big supermarket it was me the one
    who likes to buy every kind of devices, nice clothes or similar capricious things.
    Always I was looking for the last music equip or TV. big screen, books, dvd, cd, and so on.

    Cuca, never did such a thing, in fact she always hated going to shopping not necessary articles.
    If I wanted she bought something for her it was necessary to argue about her necessities
    of buying such a thing, that nice clothing or which ever another kind of article for the house.

    I think it is not a rule that women use to buy more things that men do.
    Different interests or different points of view, but about capricious people there is
    not any saying. It depends of the person not of the gender, at least that is
    what I have seen along the years with friends couples, friend girls or men.

    Of course, in that opinion I know I am in the opposite side than the
    majority, but I do not care it is just what I have seen with my own eyes.


  13. sara says:

    Dear Warren. Always I enjoy reading your blogs and learn too much from them. I agree that shopping malls have become popular destinations around the world. I am a kind that really love going to malls(of course good ones) and enjoy spending time there.

  14. emiliano says:

    With my parents was always the same as was he who likes to buy new things for the
    house or another new devices he was curious about.
    I remember my mother arguing with him because she did not like to spend the
    money in silly things, as she always said.

    Frequently topics are assumed as true but real life and people are another different
    Life would be boring if all of us move as it is supposed to act just because we
    are male, female, young or old.
    Even my cat “Gatufo” is absolutely different from the common type of cats
    that are supposed to be shellfish and they usually not reply when his owner is
    calling him.
    In fact he comes to me at the moment I claim him to do that, just as it supposed
    a dog does but not a cat either.

    In my opinion the rule is that there are not rules about choices, tastes and colors.
    Every one is prodige of natura with different and various kind of personality, to me
    this is what make life so good and interesting.


  15. Elvane says:

    I am very pleased to know more about this subject (Mall), which is my favorite. I am currently living in U.S.A. My daughter and I always go to the mall, to buy or just to window-shop. Here we have a lot of options, and the shopping Malls are incredible.
    The other day we were drinking coffee at my favorite place Starbucks, and we started talking about how smart was the person who created shopping mall, but i didn’t know much about the subject to talk more deeply, but Today i just came across this article by Warren Ediger and now i can explain it to my daughter better. Thanks Ediger.

  16. Alberto Benito says:

    oh that mall is plaza norte 2 in Alcobendas (Madrid) near my work !!!

  17. Ziba says:

    Very interesting topic Warren,
    I think every specialist has a wonderful life, although they worked hard without convenient life.

    Their life should be a model for us in our life. Hard working/ perseverant is the best adjective that we can use to describe these kinds of people.

    Here in my country there are a lot of malls in each city. You can find malls in which there are several shops that sell one product with variety of versions. For example when you want to buy a computer device you can go to a computer mall or when you want to buy furniture you can go to a furinture mall and so forth.

    Actually I enjoy going to mall but it takes a lot of time to look the shops and find the one I want, because there are many shops there and I like to see all the versions/ design to choose.

    Thank you, Warren, a lot of new and useful words.

    Ziba (Iran)

Comments are closed.