mortar

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bricks and mortar

buildings; the expenditure of money on buildings rather than something else. (The buildings referred to can be constructed out of anything.) The new president of the college preferred to invest in new faculty members rather than bricks and mortar. Sometimes people are happy to donate millions of dollars for bricks and mortar, but they never think of the additional cost of annual maintenance.
See also: and, brick, mortar

brick(s)-and-mortar

[of commercial establishements] based in buildings rather than relying on online sales over the Internet. Many of the dot-com business owners have never been involved in a brick-and-mortar business.
See also: brick

bricks and mortar

Basic and essential, as in Matthew Arnold's essay (1865): "Margate, that bricks-and-mortar image of British Protestantism." This phrase transfers essential building materials to other fundamental matters. It also may be used more literally to denote a building or buildings (whether or not made of bricks and mortar), as in The alumni prefer to see their donations in the form of bricks and mortar. [Mid-1800s]
See also: and, brick, mortar