This fall, the Oaks Mall will reach its 30th anniversary of expansion. Originally built in 1978, two wings were added for Sears and Burdines in the fall of 1984 — which is now Macy’s.
Stefanie Samara Hamblen
Hamblen worked for eight years in two different stores: ‘83-’86 at Jo-Ann Fabrics (Now Payless ShoeSource) and ‘86-’90 at Barnie’s Coffee. She recalls the mall as a bustling, prime destination for shoppers and a friendly, tight-knit community among employees.
“You could start a rumor at one end of the mall in the morning, and it could come back to you by lunchtime,” she said, laughing. “I remember testing that theory with something innocuous and funny, and it worked.”
Hamblen, now 57, recalled early-morning aerobics classes led by the Candie’s store manager. She said employees would gather in the concourse for a half-hour of stretching and yoga moves before the mall opened. “It was a riot, but we did it,” she said.
Hamblen also recalled more somber moments. “When the Challenger went down in ‘86, that spread like wildfire,” she said. “There were tons of us in front of Radio Shack watching the TVs. I remember actually walking out of the store (Jo-Ann Fabrics) and just telling the clerks that were in there, ‘I’ll be back — something just happened to one of the spaceships.’”
As an Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the mall from ‘83-’85, McInnis recalls an era of decadence under the leadership of mall founder Alan Squitieri.
Squitieri, a New York native who worked fi ve decades in real estate, had a knack for “doing it big.” McInnis said the double doors leading into Squitieri’s office at the mall were adorned with 24-karat gold-plated handles. It was a minor feat just to keep would-be thieves from making off with the valuable accents.
McInnis also recalls a hidden garage at the mall where Squitieri parked his personal fleet of luxury cars, including a Porsche, a Jaguar and a limousine.
“The family had a lot of nice, fancy cars and would come and go,” he said. “It was always fun if you got to go and move one of the cars.”
The future of the Oaks Mall
A few words from current general manager Angie McCann
Plans for renovations or expansion in the near future?
While there are not confirmed plans for renovation or expansion in the immediate future, we are constantly evaluating the center and amenities to ensure that we provide our shoppers with the best experience possible. We recently added new soft seating and benches throughout the center.
Has there been a pattern of decline or increase in traffic?
Coming off of the back-to-school season, we have been pleased with mall traffic.
Will the expansion of Butler Plaza and the upcoming Celebration Pointe shopping center impact the mall’s revenue?
New competition in the market serves the consumer and helps ensure that each individual shopping destination strives to provide the best possible experience. The Oaks is committed to continuing to enhance the shopping experience, and the recent openings of PINK and Red Robin, along with upcoming openings Charlotte Russe, Charming Charlie’s and House of Hoops are current examples of our commitment to providing outstanding, quality stores at the center.