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Sito di Fabrizio Bottini in italiano
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Pleasure-Domes with Parking (1956)
Publishing date: 19.12.2008

Quite idyllic description of the booming shopping centers industry at the beginning, in the heydays of the postwar suburban growth era. Time magazine, October 15, 1956

To the strains of piped music, splashing waterfalls and clanging cash registers, three of the handsomest and most advanced shopping centers in the U.S. opened for business last week.
Three miles from downtown Baltimore, Maryland's Governor Theodore McKeldin axed the ribbon that opened Mondawmin (from the Indian name for corn field), a 46-acre, $15 million shopping center whose 47 stores, linked by graceful promenades on two levels, expect to gross $36 million in 1957.
In suburban Virginia, five miles west of downtown Washington, hordes of first-day visitors flocked out to Seven Corners, a 33-acre, $25 million project which compresses the equivalent of four city blocks of stores into a split-level building within one block of the shopper's car.
Southwest of Minneapolis, 72 stores opened their doors at $20 million Southdale, first U.S. shopping center to be completely enclosed (largely under glass) and weather-controlled.

Parking for Women. The new centers, like many of the mammoth suburban shopping areas that have sprung up in the last ten years, are designed to siphon shoppers from an entire region. Mondawmin, for example, is the most convenient retail center for 400,000 people within a 15-minute drive. With huge free parking lots laid out so that cars are never more than a few hundred feet from stores, the decentralized centers spare their customers the fender-bending frustration of wrestling cars through downtown traffic. With an eye out for women drivers, the developers of Seven Corners have even allotted 9-ft.-wide parking spaces, v. the conventional 8 ft.
Apart from convenience, the new shopping centers have become so big and diversified that they can vie on their own terms with city retail districts. Mondawmin, for example, has one of the first auto agencies to be included in a U.S. shopping center. At Seven Corners and Southdale, as in many of the new centers, two rival department stores face each other across the mall. Nearly all the big new shopping centers are planned so that specialty stores can compete, department by department, with the dominant department store in the same center. Between them, Mondawmin, Southdale and Seven Corners have almost as much store space (nearly 2,000,000 sq. ft.) as Manhattan's Macy's.

Carnival Atmosphere. But the biggest lure of the new supercenters is what Maryland's James Rouse, No. 1 shopping-center financial consultant, promoter and part-owner of Mondawmin, calls their "personal, informal, carnival atmosphere." Frequently screened from the sight, sound and smell of traffic, their malls and walkways are bright with flowers, fountains, tropical birds. At Southdale the 82-acre shopping zone is insulated from suburban Minneapolis by a 240-acre office belt and a 176-acre lakefront residential section. Like Detroit's fabulously successful Northland center (first-year gross: $88 million), a number of the new projects are decked with sculpture and mosaics.
How are the pleasure-domes-with-parking affecting downtown business? In many cities, say downtown merchants, sales are higher than ever. Despite some 15 major shopping centers around Houston, business-district sales last year were 7% above 1954 levels. Says the Detroit Retail Merchants Association's James Dallavo: "Suburban shopping centers have made downtown merchants better promoters and salesmen, with emphasis on wider assortment and price range." Most downtown store owners who open shopping-center branches say that they are thus able to attract new customers, most of whom inevitably visit the parent store. In the fight for the shopper's dollar, downtown merchants have also been helped by the bad planning and high operating costs which often plague suburban developments, e.g., Framingham, a $7,000,000 shopping center outside Boston which went bankrupt in less than two years.
Mushrooming shopping centers have also spurred expansion of downtown stores. Shortly before the opening last month of Houston's $20 million Gulfgate, biggest shopping center in the South (anticipated first-year gross: $60 million), three floors of a four-story addition were completed at Foley Brothers, the only major Houston department store that has not opened a single suburban branch. Allied Stores Corp., which owns 32 department stores (Boston's Jordan Marsh Co., New York's Stern Bros.) in Eastern cities, is spending $250 million for expansion of shopping-center branches. Allied is also investing $3 in its downtown facilities for every $1 it is putting into suburban centers, Board Chairman B. Earl Puckett disclosed last week. Said he: "We doubt that more than 20%-25% of our business will be in the suburban shopping centers."

Back to the Bazaar. No expert in the field believes more strongly in the future of shopping centers than Jim Rouse, whose Baltimore mortgage-banking and research firm has helped develop 33 shopping centers from Toronto to Omaha. Through complex market research Rouse, who has a part-interest in six of the centers he has developed, not only decides where to build a new shopping center but can estimate in advance the revenue per sq. ft. It took him seven years and 4,000 separate mathematical calculations to decide on the exact location of Mondawmin, where the anticipated revenue is $65 per sq. ft. Rouse not only has plans for two huge new suburban shopping centers in Maryland, but will soon reverse his tried and true procedure by building two downtown centers, in Easton, Md. and Charlotte, N.C., to augment central shopping districts that have never been able to capture their full potential trade volume.
Despite rapid advances in shopping-center design and location, says Rouse, they are still in their infancy. Ultimately, he predicts, the big retail centers will all be weather-controlled and glass-enclosed, allowing store owners to dispense with display windows and open their counters, bazaar-fashion, to passersby. Says Rouse, who is also one of the leading urban redevelopment authorities in the U.S.: "The well-planned, well-managed shopping center is more than simply a new plan for retail expansion. It represents a massive reorganization of the urban community."


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