Anchor stores are larger department stores that are used to provide a major point of interest for a shopping mall or center. Sometimes referred to as a draw tenant or key tenant, it is usually a well-known chain store that is popular with consumers. The presence of this type of store can entice consumers to visit the shopping center or mall, and possible continue to shop at the smaller stores in the complex.
The idea of an anchor store predates the establishment of shopping malls in the middle of the 20th century. Prior to that time, the concept of the shopping center usually included one key store or tenant that could draw consumers to visit the center. The expectation was that the smaller stores surrounding it would sell goods and services that were complimentary to, but not in competition with, the goods and services offered by the bigger store. As a result, consumers could possibly complete their shopping without having to spend hours traveling from one part of town to another.
With the advent of the shopping mall during the 1940s and 1950s, the idea and its value to a shopping venue was expanded. Instead of including one anchor in the venue, malls began to be constructed with a minimum of two anchor stores. With an anchor tenant at each end of the mall, smaller retailers would occupy storefronts that connected the two together. A shopper may enter the mall at one, then shop at the smaller stores while on the way to the other main store at the opposite end of the mall.
The departure of key tenants is often the first sign of the decline of a shopping mall. Without the larger stores to help maintain consumer interest, the smaller stores usually begin to seek retail space in other malls or centers as soon as possible. Once the anchors and most of the smaller retail outlets have left the facility, it is usually referred to as a dead mall.