Thursday, March 10, 2011

10 March 1957 “The American Strip Mall and Tell Us About Your Area”

57stripmall This is a wonderful shot of these two ladies ready to shop at their local strip mall in New York really describes the changing landscape here in 1950’s America. The main streets, though still rather busy, are now merely an accompaniment to the strip mall.

stripmall With the automobile’s growth, the increase of roads and the growth of the suburb, America post WWII radically changed. The quick hop down town on a bike or the bus to the local market was being replaced with “Cars for everyone”. A growing middle class, increased wages and the chance for anyone to really own a car now.teenwithjalopy Consider the 1950’s teenager who has the ‘old’ cars of the 20’s as his first car. His parent’s generation didn’t have this in the same number and certainly not his grandparents.

50sdowntown Though the downtown was still the place to be and many shops existed there, the spreading out of families into ever increasing suburbs naturally lead to the strip mall. It was the solution to the increasing congestion of traffic in downtowns. By placing large parking spaces in front, more shoppers could easily park and shop.

1936trolleylines Even much used tram lines were paved over to make more room for cars. Therefore, those who did not have them virtually lost their forms of public transportation, except the buses. They were recently discovered by digging utility workers. uncoveredtrolleylines

Now, I am not certain if this is only a particular American situation. I know we simply had the money and the land post WWII that our allies did not. And we also have no real sense of history as far as preserving historical buildings that Europe enjoys.

schuylermansionFor example, this mansion in Schenectady NY, the Schuyler-Standford Mansion built in the 1760’s, is being torn down to make room for a new strip mall.schylermansion2

I am very curious for any of my international followers to chime in here: What country do you live in and do you have strip malls, did they evolve and how did they affect your downtowns and public transportation.

Now for my American readers: How lively are the strip malls in your area of the USA and are they easy to get to only by car or are there bus services as well. How is your downtown area, if you still have one?

I really am curious to know and I think it will be fun to find out, don’t you?


  1. 50s Gal, once again you've come up with a fascinating post. I appreciate the thoroughness of your research.
    My family lives in a home built in the 1920s in a town of 1600 in northcentral Montana. We have no strip malls, nor do we have fast food places. Oh darn. (not really!)
    We drive an hour to the nearest "city" of about 80,000, which has a small mall built in the 1950s. There are some smaller strip malls here and there, but none are significant. We have the typical Wal-mart and big box stores.
    In other words, we are extremely fortunate!
    In our little town, my husband walks to work and my son walks home from school and we feel safe doing so. We garden and hunt for food. We are thankful to raise our child in a place like this.
    Thanks again for a fascinating post.

  2. Wow great photos honey. Happy THursday! I'm having a new giveaway to celebrate Spring! Enter if you haven't already! Kori xoxo

  3. RMH-It does indeed sound as if you are lucky. I think it might be fun, if we get good response on this post, to do a follow up with a sort of map showing places, such as your town, with pictures to show the good and the bad (depending on the stories, yours being good obviously). I understand some people don't like to give to many details online, but if you feel like it the name of your town would be good to know then I can look up images from the downtown to share with others. Thanks for your response, by the way.

  4. Did she just call me honey? Just kidding, but it is funny to say, thanks for stopping by Kori, what is your town/city like?

  5. Our downtown is still fairly lively but not like it was in the 50's. Unless you have a specific store to visit (mostly they're specialty shops and boutiques), there isn't anything you can't get at WalMart or other big box stores, or strip malls.

    I just hate that about that mansion in New York! Needless (to my mind, anyway) destruction of historic buildings just makes my blood boil.

  6. live next door to a strip mall. It has down well and not so well over the last decade or so. A grocery store and a K-Mart anchor it, with a small Staples, a Chinese restaurant, a pizzeria, a hair salon, a nail salon, and a discount outlet.

    In the last 2 years a bank, a large liquor store, a wing restaurant, a large women’s clothing store, a home decorating store, and a tax preparer have gone out of business.

    There are lots of these strip malls in my Southwestern Florida town. Some do well others are falling into ruins. The local shopping mall is on a major downturn as well, losing 2 anchor stores in the last year and having about 25 - 30% vacant stores.

    Our “downtown” is not much to speak of. They have a monthly festival on Friday evening with minimal turnout since there’s not much there but a few expensive restaurants and a few souvenir stands.

    I so miss downtown shopping from my youth. I’ve never really enjoyed malls much; I remember when I was in elementary school my family would drive about 3 hours to the new “mall” to buy school clothes. It seemed overwhelming, expensive, and tiring to me then and remains the same now.

    This is a great post. Keep up the good work!

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  8. I live in a town of 250 people in South Dakota. Our whole town is dying, not just our "downtown." We drive 50 miles to the nearest city of 24,000 to go to WalMart, Target, etc., and a very tiny mall that is dying ever since WalMart moved out of it and across the street to the new Super WalMart. There are strip malls all around the city, and a downtown that is still thriving, mostly because the government buildings are there. Nearly everybody in my little town of 250 people commutes to work in other small towns of under 2,000 which are 25 to 30 miles away from us or to that city of 24,000 which is 50 miles away. There is no bus service of any kind around here. It would be impractical due to the great distances here, and it costs fuel to run a bus. There are shuttles for older people, I think, in the larger towns and the city, but they don't run very often as far as I know.

  9. Mary-My goodness, that seems such an excessive system, 50 miles! And you so there is nothing your town of 250? No restaurant/shops/business jobs? How sad.

  10. There are a few strip malls around, but they mostly are for furniture shopping or the like. Or in the suburbs, where they are more like a High Street, with parking out the back.

    Most supermarkets are either self contained, or part of an actual mall (shopping centre).

    We are pretty well serviced by public transport in Melbourne - it can be unreliable and crowded, but at least it exists.

    It is less prevalent in the newer suburbs that are being developed, as the developers don't seem to care about infrastructure.

  11. I live in nice small town that started after the civil war(1860s) in PA. During its hey day cigar manufacturing was the big business here. Many fine victorian houses and storefronts were built. We have empty stores downtown while new strip malls are being built.The town struggles.A lot of folks are committed to this place though. Many of us have started businesses(I sell vintage clothing) and are restoring the beautiful old homes. The real estate market is very depressed here and we were able to buy an 8 bedroom 2nd empire style house for about one third the price of a 3 bedroom townhome we had in MD. Love the place and the hardworking folks here.

  12. I think we are blessed were I live. I live in Nebraska, about an hour from Omaha, home of one of the very first malls, built in the late 40's. However, since we are close to Omaha, we have 1 strip mall that is outside of the city limits because people voted to keep it out of town. The same with Wal-Mart, our only big box store. I am so happy that we have a true downtown, with the post office, the bakery, pharmacy, 3 butcher shops, several clothing stores, two sporting goods stores as well as a hardware store and lumber company that has been here for over 100 years. Not only is the downtown busy and I think there is only two empty store fronts, from business' that moved to large locations down the side streets, we still have the shoe repair men, small cafe's. Its important to note that we have this because we want this! Our town was founded by New Englander's with a plan in 1857, and most of the families are still in the area.

    I think its fantastic. The only thing that we don't have downtown is a full service grocery store, but with a green grocer, a butcher shop, and the bakery, as well as a dairy store, that supplies farm fresh eggs and milk, why do I need to go to the local Kroger. Sure we pay more, but we know our food is much better and its so much fresher than I could get at a box store.

    I am not originally from this town, but I plan to stay here as long as possible. Our towns population is 28,000. We are the 4th largest city in our state, respectively behind Omaha, Lincoln and Bellevue, which are all a hours drive away.

  13. How very interesting! We have a strip mall in town (population about 13k) that has changed dramatically through the years. There used to be a Shopko that anchored it...a Ben Franklin...a hair salon, a pet store, etc. Stores have come and gone over the years frequently. Now the city is using this somewhat of an eyesore as a new community center (which is very nice) and the hospital (which is right next door) has repurposed the old Shopko location into office space. I guess now our one stop shopping is Walmart :p


  14. We have strip malls on every corner it seems. I live in a city in GA of close to 200,000.
    Our downtown area is more of a weekend place. Lots of bars, clubs, resteraunts, boutiques, delis.
    THose tram lines can still be seen downtown just not used.

  15. We have a small "downtown" area that was quite the place to go to back in the day! It's now a historic area and can't be torn down. It's basically a strip mall, but the shops are not what I typically think of when I think of a strip mall. lol. There's an antique shop, a consignment shop, a children's consignment shop that I adore, a cake shop, a restaurant, a couple of hairdressers, a woman's consignment, a furrier, a theater (it used to be a stage theater, then it was converted to a movie theater, and now it has been converted back to a stage theater) and a few other little shops.

    There are several strip malls that have been around for ages. There is only one "mall" in the area. The city has decided that "open malls" are the way to go, and we have several of them. They are all right, but can get a little confusing if you don't know where everything is.

    We have excellent public transportation and buses run everywhere!

    Mind, I live in a rather large city.

  16. I live in a small town about an hour from Atlanta, Georgia. I can hop on a bike and be downtown in no time! Our downtown consists of an antique shop or two, a local bbq restaurant, a mexican restaurant closed temporarily due to hard times, our tax man, a drug store, the library, city hall, police station, and some empty stores. The post office and a small chain grocery store is also present. The closest strip malls are in the next town over and doing fairly well.

    I moved here almost two years ago, and this town is actually where my mother grew up. It's fascinating to talk with her about what has changed since she grew up in the 1960s and stories from when she was a child. A hair salon used to be the local grocer! I believe she also pointed out one building used to be a five and dime and is now a women's clothing shop. She would get penny candy from there after school.

  17. We had about 300 in this town when we moved here 12 years ago. Then we lost our public school due to lack of students (we had one first grader, and his teacher was his grandma -- everybody here is related). Once you lose your school, it is a domino effect. Since there were no students or teachers to drop in to the store and cafe during lunch, or after school, the store closed. Then the cafe closed. Teachers moved away, the second gas station closed. Very sad.

    Well, the cafe and convenience store opened again, but keep shorter hours. We still have one gas station and a post office and a bank. There is a butchery and meat market owned by the same people as own the convenience store, and they employ some people. There are a couple of implement stores selling tractors and lawn mowers. A little implemement factory that employes a few people. A city office that employs a few people. Not much.

    When our school closed, our children had to be bussed 21 miles to school. But that school was good and we had no complaints. Our children didn't mind the 1 1/2 hour commute each way (3 hours a day on the school bus) because they'd talk with their friends. It took that long for the bus to go throughout our town and stop and pick up the kids and then out to the farms in the rural areas.

    I think we have about 30 kids here in town now. WE are more than 10 miles in any direction from any other town, and THOSE towns have about 50 people in them (yes!).

    Yes, WalMart and Target and a little mall 50 miles away. You get used to driving. We travel 30 miles to pastor our church (this is very common). We do rural ministry and have pastored 3 churches in the area, one after the other. Many ministers here pastor 2, 3, 4, or even more churches at the same time!!

    This place has been losing population (the Dakotas) since the dust bowl of the 1930's.

    But, we like living here. Brutal winters, remote places, but the people are nice.

  18. We have one three strip malls in the town I live in. Here is a link to a photo history of the town I grew up in; lovely then and now pics!

  19. Thank you so much for so many good comments. I think I want to discuss this further and in more detail. It is so interesting to see the changes and hear how 'your towns' are set up.
    Such fun.

  20. I live in a fairly large city (population about 300,000), in Argentina. And since Walmart landed in our city, things weren't the same. We used to go downtown to do EVERYTHING, all line buses headed downtown, but since 1997, when Walmart came, lots of neighborhoods started growing aside,as a result. And then shopping malls came, one after another, and it's so sad, because it looks so American now, it lost its own identity, and people stopped going to small stores in their own neighborhoods or going downtown for a weekly shop of errands; many stores had to close, and nothing replaced them.
    The bus lines haven't changed much, they all still head downtown, except for one that goes to these places, they are far away, so usually people choose to go in their own cars and take advantage of the big parking lots.
    I wish i could go back and change the city as it was, i think people was happier and the neighborhoods were warmer, you used to say hi and talk with the butcher, or get to know the people who worked in those little stores. But it is what it is....despite all this, i still love my city and wouldn't change it for another.
    50sGal: i love your blog, keep posting these amazing subjects.!!!
    All the love,


  21. Yeah! There are shopping centers, has reached a time that small local shops are disappearing under the yoke of the large malls, small shops run by families can not compete with these big monsters.

  22. Oh, sorry, I live on a small island belonging to Spain, it is next to Africa, the fact of being an island for the advancement of civilization slower, but still, here is a shopping center every few miles.

  23. I live in a suburb of Chicago that was once it's own town and it's been a priority of the residents and our government to keep a small town feel. We have a few strip malls but they all house small stores, few of which are chains. There is a nice downtown with restaurants, banks, a florist, an appliance repair shop, a jeweler, a movie theater (that was saved from being turned into a furniture store at the last minute), a butcher, a chocolate shop, various local clothing stores, our village hall, and a few other local shops and doctors offices. Our post office and library is across the railroad tracks (which are still used for commuter trains going to and from the city) and the hardware store, pet shop, an antique shop, barber, and Walgreens (not a big fan) is there too. There are a couple of other small business areas in our town. Over all it's pretty easy to be independent and I could really avoid the big box stores entirely if I weren't brand specific and time was less of a factor. I do the majority of our shopping locally or in the next town up. They have a better local grocery and fantastic independent book store.

    I think my town has about 22 thousand residents in a 5 square mile area. I love that it's big enough to support all these local businesses but still feels small and we can ride our bikes just about anywhere.

    I enjoyed this post and pictures.


  24. Sarah, your town sounds like the one I grew up in. It sounds heavenly to me, as a matter of fact. Would you mind telling which state you are in and, if not too personal, what vicinity? I am hoping to relocate in the next 2 years and your town sounds like a great place to check out. Thanks!

  25. Sarah, sorry. I missed the Chicago part. Ignore.

  26. Kookie, here's some links. I live in Wilmette but considered all of these towns when looking for a home. They're all very nice places to raise a family but the cost of living is high. Are you looking in only the Chicago area? The cost of living is generally high here compared to the rest of the Midwest. There are other nice Chicago suburbs but I've never lived in them so I'm not as familiar. Hinsdale and Naperville are larger but still have downtowns.

    I hope this helps!


  27. I just wanted to say that I recently discovered your blog and I am absolutely obsessed! Love ALL of your posts, please keep them coming! I am a 22 year old mother/wife and in the recent months I have been consumed with all things "50s housewife." I am 22 years old and although I know I am still young, I WISH I would of discovered this "way of life" sooner. Thank you SO much for everything!

  28. I've just posted a long comment on 23 February, but it said it awaited acceptance. I hope you read it. :)

  29. I can identify with Mary; I live in a very rural area which is AT LEAST 15 miled to the nearest store (by store I mean Dollar Store, small grocery, and Rite Aid). There are, of course, gas stations and convenient marts near by, but traveling is a necessary part of shopping. Usually, I will drive further (the next real "town" is about 25 miles from my house)in order to do my weekly shopping: simply because the selection of things at Wal-Mart and Food City is much better (and usually much cheaper) than at the stores which are closer... And if I want to go to a JC Pennys, Peebles or Super Wal-Mart, I will have to drive about 50 miles. I know this is shocking to most, but it's just part of living here.

    About downtown, the little towns around here (mostly coal camp towns) that used to be bustling with people, shops, and traffic are now very deserted. There is a lot of conflict in some local governments about whether a new library should go downtown (where hardly anyone is) or be built beside the new strip mall (where everyone goes). It's increadibly sad to visit these downtown areas, which used to be so booming (with regular train arrivals/departures daily)but now look like a ghost town. And it's because of the bigger, better stores (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Dollar General, etc.) have replaced the Mom and Pop places of yesteryear.

  30. Liana-now I have discovered it is also because the oil and car companies of the post war years began controlling the ability of small towns and cities to have easy transportation and that big highways for cars were put in OVER old rail tracks, trains destroyed and the NEED for cars and thus Gas was made the ONLY option. SO now we HAVE to go to the BIG stores, which are also not owned by local people any more. If and when gas ever hits say $10 a gallon, how affordable will be any of the food shipped to those walmart or the trips in the car TO the stores? I am really worried. Before the 1950's I lived in happy ignorance, now I am seeing the writing on the wall and it was started its writing back in the late 1940's.

  31. I'm quite lucky really.

    I live in a town in North Yorkshire, England. We're a country market town, although the market stalls are the same as in all the other towns. We get a lot of tourists to the town, because its quite pretty.

    The majority of shops here are national chains though we do have a few independent ones. We have two supermarkets in town for groceries, and several more within half an hour of here. We also have good butchers on the high street, and a couple of fruit and veg stalls.

    Our nearest shopping centre, which I guess is equivalent to a mall, is in the city of Leeds, three quarters of an hour away by train. I go through two or three times a year, but only because I like a shopping trip, not because I lack anything in my local town.

    Would I rather live nearer a big shopping centre or city? No thanks. I'll keep my town.

  32. Helen-that sounds wonderful, as does getting to live in England. I would love to move there, but the new Tier laws for immigration leave me out in the cold.

  33. Tearing down our historical house is the one thing that ALWAYS makes me livid!!! We have no business tearing down our history like that.

    When I toured Gettysburg last winter I donated to the legal fund that's being used to keep a development company from purchasing part of the battlefield and turning it into condos. That offends every part of me. We have no business turning such hallowed ground into a condo development.

    I'm so glad I live in the South where we have such great respect for our old homes. We fight for them, as long and as hard it takes to save them.

  34. Hi everyone,

    I live in a village of 5000 people on a Spanish island in the Med. We have 16 places where you can have a glass of wine in this village, and no need to go into the capitol as there is everything here except for any fast food or chain stores, THANK GOD!!! American strip mall shopping is so depressing and lonely. My husband and I know every shop owner here, and the local Saturday farmers market is amazing and authentic. Corporate America is killing the true identity of America, think carefully.


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