When I was a teenager back in the
late 00’s, early 00’s, the 90’s, I spent a lot of my time at the Altamonte Mall. I had a fast food job there, and smelling like french fries, I would wander around the area with my buddies.
There was B. Dalton’s for books, Suncoast for movies, Electronic Boutique for video games, and Blockbuster music or Peaches down the road for music. On most days, especially the weekends, the place was busy, and during the holidays it was truly a site to behold with everyone scrambling for gifts among the decorations and music.
Then came the West Oaks Mall in Ocoee. They had a movie theater inside of the mall with “stadium seating”, where get this, the seats went upwards instead of being parallel to the floor. This innovation led to us frequenting that mall as well, which with it’s checkerboard paint/tile scheme, and even trendier stores, this center was also packed with residents from the west side.
Now, as all operations of this type struggle to survive, the West Oaks Mall resembles something out of a Stanley Kubrick film. It’s once crowded walkways are now virtually empty, and many of their places for stores are vacant. It’s a far cry from what is was 20 years ago.
It’s not alone either. Sanford Town Center, Oviedo Mall, and the Artegon marketplace are all fighting. You can’t blame customers, the online competition is far more affordable.
However, entrepreneurs are getting creative (story HERE), and this is great for an Orlando community that sees these malls as part of their lives growing up here, just like I do.
And these are neat ideas too. The Sanford Town Center is the home to a state of the art fitness center, West Oaks recently acquired an Orange County Tax Collector’s office, and Oviedo is trying out co-working spaces within it’s walls.
It’s about making these a destination for experiences, instead of things, and in Orlando’s family/tourism friendly market it’s a terrific idea.
There are some malls that will remain about retail for now. The Millenia Mall is a popular destination for shopping with visitors from the nearby tourism district. The Fashion Square mall is undergoing renovations/development that will make it a versatile destination less than 10 minutes away from downtown Orlando.
If these ideas succeed, then many families can continue to take their kids to the same malls they wandered as when they were younger, and that’s preserving part of Orlando’s history for a lot of families.