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Highway 50 Revisited

Exploring one of the busiest, yet most overlooked, roadways in our region

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The Magic Mall specializes in goods for the so-called “urban” shopper: framed art depicting African-American families, hair products, oversized rims, local hip-hop mix tapes, hugely baggy T-shirts and shorts, Jamaican horror/comedy videos, and smile-brightening gold-and-diamond grills. In fact, it was the presence of a stall plastered with pictures of children wearing grills that prompted MediaTakeOut.com to post a shot from the mall in April, with the title “In Our CONSTANT SEARCH For The RATCHETEST City In America ... We Think We Found A Winner …. ORLANDO!!! … you can go the Flea Market. And there’s a place where they sell GRILLS … just for kids!!!! Orlando …. c’mon y’all … what is wrong with you …” Comments from readers were split between disapproval (“*HANDS IN FACE* LAWD HAVE MERCY!!!!”) and fondly defensive nostalgia (“MAGIC MALL BABY … U CAN GET YA HAIRDONE, TATTOOS, FOOD, SHOES, CLOTHES, GRILLS, CDS AND T SHIRTS FOR THE DEAD HOMIES … I STILL LOVE MY CITY ...”).

Before the Magic Mall became Orlando’s go-to spot to buy XXXXL T-shirts, it was a Kmart, says Porfirio Sanchez, proprietor of Magic Arts and Variety, a stall selling pinup prints and designer smell-alike perfumes. In the early 1990s, the empty building was leased by a group of Korean businesspeople and transformed into a flea market. When the Korean group decamped farther west to open the Magic Mall Outlet at 5176 W. Colonial Drive, they took with them many of the original vendors and patrons. Business began to decline, but it’s hard to say whether that was the change in management or the general decline in the economy. “We’re surviving, but I don’t know how long I’m going to stay here if I don’t see more money coming in,” Sanchez says. (He’s been there 16 years, but his business used to occupy many more square feet than it does now – as did the market itself, he says.) “It was nice … I made a lot of money. As soon as Bush took over [sales] went down,” Sanchez says, with an ominous whistle.

Aside from its economic woes, the Magic Mall saw trouble in February, when, in the culmination of an investigation launched in 2009, the FBI arrested four men on federal drug charges. The 28-year-old proprietor of Vitamino Discount and Gift Items and Magic Metro, Ali Abdul-Amir Joumaa, was accused of selling substances used to cut cocaine and heroin.

Interestingly, the Orange County Property Appraiser’s website lists the Magic Mall’s owner as the Chesley G. Magruder Foundation. In 2006 (the most recent tax documents available), the foundation made grants totaling $611,250 to Orlando Shakespeare Festival, Orlando Philharmonic, Orlando Museum of Art, and Lake Highland and Trinity preparatory schools, among dozens of other arts, charitable and Christian organizations. Their rental income from the Magic Mall that year was $274,414. Although the bulk of the foundation’s net worth is in financial investments, it’s notable to realize that the sale of hair products and T-shirts is supporting the efforts of some of Orlando’s loftiest institutions.

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