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.
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.
Current and modern examples of common anchor and department stores in the United States of America include Sears, JCPenney, Belk, Dillard's, Macy's, Kohl's, Boscov's, The Bon Ton, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Von Maur. Defunct and former department and anchor store examples from the USA include Ames, Montgomery Ward, Upton's, Mervyns, Ivey's, Burdines, Lazarus, Rich's, Foley's, Marshall Field's, Hecht's, McRae's, Jordan Marsh, Parisian, and Sanger-Harris.
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. Large supermarkets remain common anchor stores within power centers however.
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 clarification needed][
The challenges faced by the traditional large department stores have led to a resurgence in the use of supermarkets as anchors.