When the planned shopping mall format was developed by Victor Gruen in the early to mid-1950s, signing larger department stores was necessary for the financial stability of the projects, and to draw retail traffic that would result in visits to the smaller stores in the mall as well. Anchors generally have their rents heavily discounted, and may even receive cash inducements from the mall to remain open. In physical configuration, anchor stores are normally located as far from each other as possible to maximize the amount of traffic exposure for other stores when shoppers walk from one anchor to another.
The International Council of Shopping Centers makes the presence of anchors one of the main defining characteristics of the two largest categories of malls, the regional center with 400,000 to 800,000 square feet (74,000 m2) in gross leasable area, and the superregional center with more than 800,000 square feet (74,000 m2) of space. The regional center typically has two or more anchors, while the superregional typically has three or more. In each case, the anchors account for 50-70% of the mall's leasable space.
Malls with anchor stores have consistently outperformed those without one, as the anchor helps draw shoppers initially attracted to the anchor to shop at other stores in the mall.
Early on, grocery stores were a common type of anchor store, since they are visited often. However, research on consumer behavior revealed that most trips to the grocery store did not result in visits to surrounding shops. As of 2005, the declining popularity of old-line department stores makes it necessary for mall management companies to consider re-anchoring with other retail alternatives, or mix commercial development with residential development to guarantee a captive clientele. The challenges faced by the traditional large department stores have led to a resurgence in the use of supermarkets as anchors.
- "ICSC Shopping Center Definitions: Basic Configurations and Types for the United States", International Council of Shopping Centers. Accessed July 10, 2008.
- Stoffel, Jennifer. " WHAT'S NEW IN SHOPPING MALLS; Putting a Bloomingdale's In Towns Big and Small", The New York Times, August 7, 1988. Accessed July 10, 2008. "Even as department stores have lost ground to smaller specialty shops, shopping centers with national retailers as anchors continue to outperform those that have only local tenants.... The anchor store has substantial influence - mall plans have been held up until an anchor is firmly in place, and a successful anchor can inspire new development or continued expansion."
- Kroll, Karen M. "Industry turns to supermarket anchors to fill big boxes", Shopping Centers Today, February 1999. Accessed July 10, 2008.