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Retails Spaces Explored: What Sets a Mall and a Plaza Apart?

Most of the time the terms mall and plazas are used interchangeably to refer to one destination. In general, a mall or plaza is a vast area where customers can visit more than one store or outlet. Consequently, there is a distinct difference between a mall and a plaza. Shopping malls are big enclosed facilities that house numerous retailers that sell items to the general public. A plaza on either hand does not have to be an enclosed space; it might be a shopping plaza, a strip center, or a pedestrian street. As a result, a retail plaza is simply a form of mall.

What is the difference between a plaza and a mall?

In this article, we will define both of these terms, their characteristics and examine the difference between them.

Shopping Malls 

A mall is a large indoor shopping center that features a variety of retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. Malls typically have anchor stores, such as department stores or large chain stores, which serve as the main drawers for visitors. A mall is a location where customers can visit more than one store. A mall can be a shopping center/strip mall or simply a pedestrian street. Thus, a mall might be a big suburban building or collection of buildings containing numerous businesses, or it can be a variety of shops surrounding an open-air concourse allocated for foot circulation. A strip mall, sometimes known as a mini-mall, is an open-air mall with businesses placed in a row and a sidewalk in front. Other features of malls include:

  • Multiple floors with escalators, elevators, and stairs
  • Wide corridors with seating areas
  • Restrooms, ATMs, and other amenities
  • Climate-controlled environments
  • Large parking areas or garages

Examples of popular malls around the world include the Mall of America in Minnesota, USA, the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates, and the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada.

Shopping Plaza 

A plaza is an outdoor commercial space that features a collection of shops, restaurants, and services arranged around a central open area or courtyard. A public plaza is a type of communal amenity that caters to a wide range of users, including building tenants, visitors, and members of the general public. This space type can serve as pedestrian site arrival points, public art houses, recreation and relaxation areas, and inconspicuous security elements for high-profile structures. Plazas are a welcome addition to any bustling streetscape. Other features of plazas include:

  • Walkways and outdoor seating areas
  • Water features, sculptures, and other decorative elements
  • Limited parking or street parking
  • Pedestrian-friendly environments

Examples of popular plazas around the world include the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, and the Rockefeller Center Plaza in New York City, USA.

Differences between Malls and Plazas

While malls and plazas share some similarities, they have several key differences:

  • Size and Scale: Malls are typically larger and more sprawling than plazas, which tend to be more compact.
  • Location: Malls are often located in suburban areas, while plazas are typically found in urban areas.
  • Tenant Mix and Diversity: Malls tend to have a wider variety of stores and services, while plazas often have a more curated selection of shops and restaurants.
  • Ambiance and Atmosphere: Malls are often crowded and busy, with bright lights and loud music, while plazas are more tranquil and relaxed.
  • Purpose and Function: Malls are primarily designed for shopping and entertainment, while plazas serve as community gathering places and may also host cultural events.

Pros and Cons of Malls and Plazas

Both shopping malls and shopping plazas have advantages and disadvantages:

shopping mall vs plazza
shopping mall vs plazza

Advantages of malls include:

  • Wide variety of stores and services
  • Climate-controlled environment
  • Large parking areas or garages
  • Entertainment options, such as movie theaters and arcades

Disadvantages of malls include:

  • Crowded and noisy environment
  • Potential for long walking distances
  • Impersonal and commercial atmosphere

Advantages of plazas include:

  • Community gathering place
  • Pedestrian-friendly environment
  • Unique shops and restaurants
  • Cultural events and performances

Disadvantages of plazas include:

  • Limited parking
  • Lack of climate control
  • Fewer entertainment options


Malls and plazas are both important commercial spaces, but they have distinct differences. Malls are large indoor shopping centers with a wide variety of stores and entertainment options, while plazas are outdoor community gathering places with a more curated selection of shops and restaurants. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and which one is better depends on the purpose and function of the space.

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