But there would be challenges. In addition to the development of Florida Mall in 1986 and the more upscale Mall at Millenia in 2002 – both buffeted by transient tourist traffic, Ackerman says with palpable disdain – shifts in personal tastes that led to outdoor shopping centers and outlet malls have dampened Fashion Square’s fashionable glimmer. So Ackerman, who came to his post at the end of 2007, has worked to redefine what fashion is. Most notably, the mall became home to the National Entrepreneur Center (formerly the Disney Entrepreneur Center) in April, something that Ackerman says could help sustain the mall itself. People who want to test their entrepreneurial impulses through the center’s resources could “transfer some of their efforts into real-world opportunities” at a kiosk or a store in the mall. There are, as is indicated by the numerous Orlando-themed postcard walls where stores used to be, many vacancies.
“I definitely think we’re very encouraged,” Ackerman says. “After a year and a half of more closures than openings, there’s been a readjustment.”
Part of that readjustment has been more interactive sales via mobile kiosks; retailers are trying harder. “In 2005, you basically opened your door and rang into a register,” he says. “In 2011, there’s a little bit of a return to the experience of shopping.”
But you wouldn’t know it from looking at Fashion Square on a weekday afternoon. The food court is virtually empty, several kiosk attendants are reading their iPads to pass the time, one man is ironing out a hair extension as he tries to peddle a straightening iron to a woman whose hair is already straight, there are vibrating massage recliners being unused. It is a plastic ghost town.
“Sometimes I think that people look at our malls and they don’t realize that the hallways are immense. It tickles me,” Ackerman offers by way of explanation, or overstatement. “When you’ve got a football field in between, of course it’s going to look empty.”
1830 E. Colonial Drive
You’ve likely walked by the Church of Scientology’s storefront a thousand times and hardly even noticed it. It’s impressively bland (especially when compared to its Rubik’s Cube neighbor Sam Flax), and there’s little to entice you to come inside, save a few half-hearted placards advertising “free stress tests” set up on the sidewalk outside.
Inside, the space is just as drab: posters hung on plain drywall, worn carpet leading down boring hallways. Strings of party lights hung from the drop ceiling for a church function do little to dress the space up.