Few things are as American as the indoor shopping mall. And just like many things that are unique to the U.S.A., the mall ─ for over half a century a vital hub of American retail and social life ─ was invented by a foreigner.
Victor Gruen, an Austria-born commercial architect, designed Southdale Center, the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled indoor shopping center, outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. By today's gargantuan mall sizes, this one was pretty modest, comprising 800,000 square feet (74,000 square meters).
Southdale Center (which is still around) cost $20 million to build and had two anchor department stores and 72 smaller stores. It was built on two levels which were connected by escalators; parking was available to directly access both floors. Opening in 1956, Gruen's aim in creating a new shopping experience was to promote the idea of a walkable city center in American suburbs where cars were king.
Indoor shopping malls were an immediate hit ─ where else could you spend Saturday afternoon buying a party dress, sitting on Santa's lap, watching a movie, relaxing in an atrium bedecked in greenery and running into a dozen of your friends and acquaintances? Malls were clean, cool (or warm if you needed it), safe and easy on the eyes. Plus, there was a lot of fun stuff to buy and plenty of free parking.
Americans went crazy for malls. By 1960, 4,500 of them had been erected in the U.S. ─ this means a minimum of three new malls had opened every day for four years! At first, it was the sheer volume of malls that mattered, but later Americans started wanting more from them.
Mall culture rose in the 1980s. Suburban parents felt comfortable dropping off the kids there for a couple hours to meet up with their friends. Malls were a popular spot to meet for a date, walk with a friend or go when you didn't quite know what else to do with yourself. Gruen's intention to create a modern American town square had, in a way, come to fruition.
However, he often spoke critically against his creation. He hated cars, and his original idea had been to create a sort of town square surrounded by walkable housing, schools, cafes and gardens. Before he died in 1980, Gruen came to view his malls as "consumer traps" and "gigantic shopping machines."
Today, U.S. malls are in decline, down from 2,500 in the 1980s to just 700 in 2023, victims of the rise in online shopping, the COVID-19 pandemic (which forced everyone to stay away from crowded spaces) and changing consumer tastes (people now prefer to get in and out of a store quickly rather than spending an afternoon at the mall). Some malls are trying to stay open by adding amenities like health clubs or ice-skating rinks, increasing the space rented to offices or even lending themselves out to movie studios as sets.
In order to stay relevant, American malls must be consumerist pleasure palaces and offer amenities that set them apart. And most of the biggest ones do. Here are the 10 biggest malls in America and what makes people come back for more:
The 10 Largest Shopping Malls in America
1. Mall of America: 5,600,000 Square Feet (520,257 Square Meters)
Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Mall of America is the largest mall in the U.S. When it opened in 1992, more than 150,000 people crowded in to experience the opening day of its Snoopy-themed amusement park, the 1.2 million-gallon aquarium, wedding chapel and over 300 stores.
These days, the mall has grown to 520 stores and 27 theme park rides. Visitors come for the Nickelodeon Universe theme park and Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium ─ they can even stay in one of three hotels inside the mall.
The Mall of America attracts around 40 million visitors a year and generates close to $2 billion annually.
2. American Dream Mall: 3,000,000 Square Feet (278,709 Square Meters)
The 3-million-square-foot American Dream Mall features a Nickelodeon theme park, ice-skating rink, year-round water park, indoor ski slope, concert venue, go-kart track and bowling alley, in addition to over 450 shops. It was developed by Triple Five Group, the same company that owns Mall of America.
3. King of Prussia Mall: 2,793,200 Square Feet (259,478 Square Meters)
Built in 1963, King of Prussia Mall just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is one of the oldest malls in the United States. Owned entirely by the Simon Property Group, a real estate investment group that manages many malls, King of Prussia Mall used to be two different buildings, the "Court" and the "Plaza," but it underwent renovations in 2016 that boosted its square footage to become the third-largest mall in America. Now, its 450 unique shopping destinations, restaurants and attractions ─ including an indoor skydiving center ─ attract around 20 percent of the tourists who visit Philadelphia.
4. South Coast Plaza Mall: 2,738,730 Square Feet (254,436 Square Meters)
Built in 1967, the South Coast Plaza Mall in Los Angeles remains the largest mall on the West Coast, despite its advanced age. The fourth-largest mall in the U.S. was also one of the most lucrative prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, raking in $1.5 billion annually.
South Coast Plaza has been owned by the Segerstrom family since they built it almost six decades ago. It has 275 stores and an unusually large number are retail storefronts for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Balenciaga.
The largest mall in the Southeast, Miami's Aventura Mall is the fifth-largest in the country. Opened in 1983, it not only contains 300 stores and restaurants, but also a farmers market, lots of original art and sculptures and the Aventura Slide Tower, a spiraling tubular slide designed by German sculptor Carsten Höller.
6. Del Amo Fashion Center: 2,500,000 Square Feet (232,258 Square Meters)
7. The Galleria: 2,400,838 Square Feet (223,045 Square Meters)
Located in Houston, The Galleria is the largest shopping mall in Texas. It opened in 1970, boasting a long, glazed glass vaulted ceiling. The Galleria has undergone several renovations in more than five decades and now has 400 retail stores, two Westin hotels, two swimming pools and a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 square-meter) indoor ice-skating rink that's open to the public year-round.
8. Destiny USA Mall: 2,400,000 Square Feet (222,967 Square Meters)
Opened in 1990 in Syracuse, New York, Destiny USA is the tallest mall in the top 10. Six stories high, this behemoth has 250 retail spaces, an antique carousel, a go-kart track and a branch of the Key West-themed restaurant Margaritaville. It's the biggest mall in New York State.
9. Roosevelt Field Mall: 2,366,692 Square Feet (219,873 Square Meters)
Built on the old air strip where Charles Lindbergh took off for his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Roosevelt Field, Long Island, opened in 1956, soon after Gruen's Southdale Center. It is the second-largest mall in New York State and has 294 retail spaces.
Built in 1990, Sunrise, Florida's Sawgrass Mills is the 10th-largest shopping mall in the U.S. However, it's considered the second-most lucrative, according to CNBC, valued at $4.1 billion based on sales. This 350-store monster is all on one level and shaped like an alligator. It offers a mix of high-end brands like Gucci, outlet favorites like the Michael Kors outlet and mall staples like Bath and Body Works. Part of its success lies in the fact that it attracts many international customers, particularly from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Now That's Interesting
Five of the malls on our list are owned by the same company, Simon Property Group. However, it doesn't own the most-valuable mall in America. In fact, that mall didn't make our list, because it's an outdoor shopping mall. It's the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, with an area of 2,270,186 square feet (210,907 square meters). It's valued at around $5.8 billion, boasts more than 350 shops and offers a free daily hula show.
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