The Jacksonville region, also known as Florida’s First Coast, is home to over one million people and the anchor city for a large geographic area in northeast Florida and southeast Georgia. The region is not only the coastal gateway to the state of Florida, but also a tourist destination known for its sandy beaches, warm climate, and numerous cultural amenities. In addition, the city of Jacksonville is the largest city in geographic area (758 square miles) in the continental United States; only Juneau, Alaska is bigger.
Built in 1975, Orange Park Mall has been the anchor shopping center for a suburban area of Jacksonville south and west of the St. Johns River for over three decades. In fact, it is the only large, regional mall on the west side of the river in Jacksonville; Regency Square (opened 1967), The Avenues Mall (opened 1990) and St. John’s Town Center (outdoor, opened 2005) are all on the east side of the river. Other smaller malls have also come and gone in Jacksonville, including Normandy Mall, Gateway Center Mall, and Roosevelt Mall, but these were always local, neighborhood-oriented malls and have either mostly been disenclosed or put to other uses.
Orange Park Mall, according to one user on Yelp, “is just your average suburban shopping mall,” and we couldn’t agree more. Malls like Orange Park offer a very typical middle-of-the-road retail experience, and are common across the nation, mainly in middle class suburban enclaves surrounding large cities. Typically, one (or more, if the metro is large enough) shopping center will have unquestionable dominance in a market big enough for several malls. Some examples of this are Woodfield Mall near Chicago, King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia, and the Galleria in Houston. While these malls remain the super-regional draw in the metro, other regional malls may also exist in the market, typically serving a geographical “side” or area. And, if this area is middle class through and through, these malls tend to reflect this in their stores and services. Orange Park Mall is a great example of this. The mall is popular mainly because of its location; its proximity to shoppers is its main value because the mall is closer to them than other malls on an equal or better footing, and as such store vacancies are low and the mall is filled with many mid-line national and regional chains. It may have Hollister and Old Navy, but it probably won’t have Fendi or Lacoste.
It is because of this that we dub Orange Park Mall the official middle-of-the-road Everyman’s Mall of our site. Take a look; it doesn’t get any more average than this. Now, we impart no negativity on this distinction; it is what it is. It’s a utilitarian place for regional shoppers, offering few frills yet it’s still a large, enclosed, packed suburban icon. This is your everyday, typical suburban mall.
Orange Park Mall is currently anchored by Belk, JCPenney, Dillard’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Sears, with 120 stores, a 24-screen AMC Theater, and a 400-seat food court. The mall is located just west of the river along I-295 at Blanding, near a whole bunch of the type of big box strip you’d expect from an Everyman Mall area (like Best Buy…) and a bunch of chain restaurants. Shoppers who want a bit more upscale atmosphere can jump on 295 and head across the river to The Avenues, and a newer “Lifestyle Center” called St. John’s Town Center a bit farther afield has even more upmarket offerings.
The layout of Orange Park Mall indicates an addition was probably made at some point, and though it’s hard to say, it looks as if the JCPenney wing is “newer” – can anyone confirm? Today the mall stands at just under one million square feet of retail space, including anchors. Both its sheer size and the fact that it is the only mall west of the river should cement its popularity even despite the economic downturn and the fact that The Avenues is only a few minutes away across the bridge.
We visited Orange Park Mall in January 2008 and took the pictures featured here. We’d like to know more about the history of Orange Park Mall since it opened way back in the mid 1970s. We know the Dillard’s was once a Charlotte, N.C. based Ivey’s (until about 1990 when Dillard’s bought the Ivey’s chain) but we know little about the history of the rest of the anchor stores. As usual, leave your comments and your experiences here.