Highway 50 Revisited
Exploring one of the busiest, yet most overlooked, roadways in our region
Published: December 1, 2011
The steady mid-morning breakfast flow subsides at Colombia Bakery. “It gets busy around 3 or 4 p.m.,” Castrillon explains. Typically, that’s when a late-lunch crowd fills the bakery, often ordering the most popular menu item, the daily lunch special for $5.99: choice of steak or chicken, rice and beans, and plantains. Also, written in Spanish and taped to the window, a piece of paper with the words “employee is needed for the kitchen.” Castrillon tidies up another table near the window and then steps behind the counter to put on another pot of coffee.
3201 E. Colonial Drive
Outside the Colonial Drive entrance to Orlando Fashion Square, two elderly women with walking canes squint into the sunlight as they stand beneath squares depicting lifestyles of fashion – happy couples in warm embrace, gleeful children, vaguely ethnic portraits of success – that hang two-dimensional and still over their heads. That widening gap between the shopping mall’s business model and its reality only continues through the point-of-sale thoroughfare indoors: an empty tattoo parlor, an empty nail salon, an empty massage storefront giving way to the only business that seems to be attracting any customer fluidity, Panera Bread.
Gone are the days of the pinkish bubblegum smack and the putrid wafts of Crabtree and Evelyn runoff overexciting the teenage masses into cliquish semi-inhabitance. The rite of passage that led to such mass-market retail realities as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mallrats has distilled into a schizophrenic sense of lowbrow utility. Also, it’s hard to champion consumerism in the middle of an economic depression, even at Hot Topic.
But that’s a half- (or almost completely) empty perception, says Orlando Fashion Square’s marketing director, Dave Ackerman. Following a lengthy, and unexpectedly engaging cultural history of what malls have meant to people, Ackerman concludes that the original purpose of indoor shopping outlets – as a town center that is as much about culture as it is convenience – is on its way back.
“We don’t necessarily shop anymore as a recreational activity; we’re not so consumed with status and brands,” he says. “We start realizing that as we sprawl and build, we again want to revisit repurposing what we already have, spaces that already exist.”
The roots of Orlando Fashion Square date back to October 1963 when a freestanding (and still standing) Sears outlet was built. The rest of the mall was the brainchild of Pompano Beach developer Leonard Farber, a patron saint in the mall trade, who developed the 70.5-acre property in 1973. In the ensuing years, anchor stores like Burdines (now Macy’s) and Robinson’s (later Maison Blanche) were enough to attract a multiplex theater and the development of a food court, making it an all-purpose attraction fit for losing a full day.