Retail strips are one part of an increasingly complex retail system. Traditionally, chain stores tended to dominate shopping centres, while independently owned shops were found in central city or retail strip locations. Indeed, an important aspect of retail strips is their functional specialization (Leigh, 1965; Jones, 1984; Sinopoli, 1996). Strips often specialize in a particular type of economic activity or serve a distinctive market. A major source of variation is the size of the strip, measured either in the number of stores or in floor area. The smaller strips often start out as convenience centres serving a local market, then expand to serve more extensive markets, and perhaps even specialize in a specific market that draws customers from across the metropolitan region.
Over time, some strips have maintained or even strengthened their position, while others have declined. Many of the older retail strips date from the era of streetcars or other forms of transit (e.g., omnibuses and horse cars) along main routes within a (relatively) high-density residential environment. Many of these traditional strips were originally oriented toward the needs of the pedestrian shopper, and later partially or entirely reshaped to accommodate automobiles. By contrast, most of the retail strips built over the past 60 years are located in the suburbs, geared towards the suburban shopper with an automobile, and parking has always been provided. Recently, major retail chains have taken notice of infill opportunities in retail strips both in traditional downtowns and in the inner suburbs, as suburban markets have become increasingly saturated.