10 Historic Malls Where People Still Shop

The Cleveland Arcade was built in the 1890s. It was modeled after Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which also appears on this list. MK Feeney [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

Remember the days when malls dominated the suburban landscape? Nothing was more exciting than heading to the local shopping center for an afternoon of browsing, socializing and grazing at the food court.

But times, and shopping habits, have changed. Bigger shopping centers have sprung up and cheaper outlet malls have enticed buyers away from hometown retailers. Today, many smaller suburban malls are literally shells of their former selves. If they haven't been demolished, they stand vacant. A lucky few have avoided the wrecking ball by being converted into office complexes or apartment blocks.

It's not all bad news, however. A number of historic malls and department stores are still used for retail. Their history is part of their allure, and, in many cases, luxury brands and boutiques have chosen these aged venues over space in modern mega malls. Here are 10 historic shopping centers that are still thriving.

1. The Westminster Arcade, Rhode Island

The entrance to the Westminster Arcade

The Westminster Arcade was the first enclosed shopping center in the U.S. Built in 1828 in Providence, Rhode Island, the mall is now considered a National Historic Landmark. Inspired by classical Greek buildings, there are columns at the front entrance, and some of the other exterior features are similar to ancient Hellenic temples.

Westminster has always been a successful retail space, though it has undergone extensive renovations several times over its lifespan. When owners weren't able to fill out the building with retail tenants, they added residential "loft" studios. The latest renovations took place between 2008 and 2013, so this historic mall will remain in business for the foreseeable future.

2. The Bourse, Pennsylvania

This venue became a shopping center in the late 1970s. Many other malls built during that decade have already been demolished or repurposed. However, the Bourse wasn't built in the '70s; it was built in the 1890s! One of the grandest buildings of the industrial era, the Bourse features balconies, columns and impressive brick-work. It was originally a commodities exchange and the headquarters for major shipping and import companies.

Business offices remain a part of the Bourse to this day, but a development company bought the building in 1979 and added a large food court and enough shopping space for 24 stores.

3. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

No list of historic shopping venues would be complete without Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This grand covered shopping promenade took more than a decade to build with construction completed in 1877. Named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king to rule over a united Italy, the Galleria consists of two arcades, which are sometimes referred to as covered streets.

The vaulted glass ceiling and steel roofing give the Galleria a special atmosphere. The mosaic tiles, intricate inlays and classical lighting add to the ambiance. Some of the shops here are as old as the mall itself. The Biffi Caffè, for example, is a pastry shop that has been around for 150 years. Many of Italy's most famous fashion and jewelry brands are represented at the Galleria as well.

4. Bellevue Square, Washington

Bellevue Square, which was called Bellevue Shopping Square when it first opened in 1946 in Bellevue, Washington, is one of the world's original suburban shopping malls. Its first major tenant was Marshall Field and Co., and their opening marked the first time that the major American department store chain opened a location outside of a major city's limits. Nordstrom got its start at Bellevue as well. It opened a store in the 1950s, back when the now famous mall anchor only sold shoes.

Like most suburban malls, it has not been all rosy for Bellevue. Major tenants have left, including JC Penney in 2014, but the statistics remain good. The mall averages 16 million visitors annually and estimates say that on average each visitor spends more than $100 per trip.

5. Country Club Plaza, Missouri

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City

Built in 1922, Country Club Plaza remains a popular shopping spot in Kansas City, Missouri. The mall was modeled after the city of Seville, Spain. True to its name, it has a plazalike layout. Though it was not the first mall in the country, it was the first that was specifically designed to accommodate people who drove their cars to shop.

Country Club Plaza did have a Sears and Woolworth's during its early days, but the shopping plaza has always favored high-end retailers. Original tenants included Kansas City-based luxury apparel store Harzfeld's, and today's boutiques include Gucci, FAO Schwarz and Saks 5th Avenue.

6. Westfield Chermside, Australia

Westfield Chermside is located in Brisbane, Australia. It was the venue that first brought suburban-style shopping malls to the Southern Hemisphere. When it first opened in 1957, it was known as Chermside Drive-In Shopping Center. It was fully air conditioned and had a very modern design for its time period.

Chermside had one of the most eventful grand openings in the history of malls. Police had to be called to control the crowd of more than 15,000 who were waiting for the mall to open so that they could get the initial door-buster deals. The mall remains popular to this day, receiving more than 16 million visitors annually and is the largest shopping venue in Queensland.

7. Market Square, Illinois

Market Square in Lake Forest, Illinois

Market Square does not resemble many of the other suburban malls that now stand around the U.S. Built in 1916, it stands as a link between classic shopping arcades and modern-day malls. It is generally considered the first regional shopping mall in the country — a destination that would draw people from all around the state.

The shopping complex, still in use today, was actually originally part of a project to reinvigorate the downtown area of Lake Forest, Illinois, which had fallen into disrepair.

8. Southdale Center, Minnesota

Minnesota is known for the Mall of America, one of the world's largest shopping centers. However, long before the famously large mall broke ground, the Southdale Center opened in suburban Edina. Touting itself as the world's first fully-enclosed climate-controlled mall, Southdale saw its first shoppers in 1956. Originally, the plan was to draw people away from the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul by offering everything from restaurants and shopping to a post office and even a small zoo.

Though it is now partially vacant, the mall is undertaking renovations and trying to become a place where local people come to shop instead of going to the tourist-centric Mall of America.

9. Cleveland Arcade, Ohio

The Cleveland Arcade

Defined by massive skylights and ornate decor, the Cleveland Arcade was built in the 1890s, when the Ohio city was at the center of American industry. It was actually modeled after another historic mall, Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The Arcade stands five floors tall and there are also two nine-story towers.

The arched entrance, glass and wrought iron are still a part of this historic building today. The arcade is now owned by the Hyatt Regency, which has converted part of the building into a hotel. The bottom two floors remain open the the public and are currently used as a mall.

10. Burlington Arcade, U.K.

Burlington Arcade in London

London is home to a number of historic shopping arcades. The oldest and most famous is unarguably the Burlington Arcade. It is located behind Bond Street in Piccadilly. Defined by its narrow design and glazed roof, Burlington has been an upscale shopping area since it first opened in 1819.

Unlike most arcades, this one was not inspired by Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It predated the famous Milan mall and actually served as a prototype for the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and for other covered shopping complexes around Europe. In fact, most modern malls can trace their roots back to this narrow covered street.