The advent of the automobile in the early 1900s brought drastic changes to the United States retail industry. At the time, commerce was centralized in the downtown areas of America's cities and towns, with very few shopping options available in the outlying suburbs.

This began to change in the period immediately before -and after- World War 1. A group of dilapidated buildings in the downtown district of Lake Forest, Illinois were razed and replaced by a "car-friendly" complex of retail structures. This heralded the start of a new age in American retail.