In August of 1980, Ocala was a growing small town that still had one major missing piece: a full-scale, enclosed shopping mall. That would all change on Aug. 13 of that year when the Paddock Mall officially opened its doors for the first time and Ocala would become a shopping hub of Marion, Citrus, Lake and Levy counties.
The opening of such a mall was a rather big deal at the time, making front-page news both the day of and day after the grand opening. The Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce president at that time, Gordon Skipper, summed it up thus: “It’s a mark of a new era for Ocala in the fact that this particular unit is indicative of a larger community image.”
Built by the Edward J. Debartolo Corp. and Arlen Realty and Development Corp., the Paddock Mall opened at a cost of $30 million. On its first day, 42 stores opened for business including two large department stores: Maas Brothers (later to become Burdines and now Macy’s) and Belk Lindsey. A third anchor store, J.C. Penney, would open the following January. Plans called for four anchor stores – Sears would join the Paddock Mall family in 1991 – and the accommodation of 92 stores.
In the early days of the Paddock Mall, there was no real food court as there exists today. Where the food court currently resides on the mall’s southeast side, Walgreen’s occupied that spot that faced a Morrison’s Cafeteria across the walkway. The common sight every Sunday morning was church goers waiting for the mall doors to open at 11 a.m. so they could enjoy an early lunch following services.
Mall patrons in 1980 enjoyed iron horse statues amid the calming tones of waterfalls so familiar at other enclosed malls. Today, those horses guard the southeast entrance of the mall where the food court exists.
The night before the mall’s opening, a ribbon-cutting preview party was held at the mall with Ed Debartolo, Jr. among the speakers. At the time, DeBartolo was president and managing partner of the San Francisco 49ers. When DeBartolo, Sr., took to the podium, he joked that, “I’m happy to say that my record of building shopping malls has exceeded the 49ers’ record of wins.” Of course, the previous season the 49ers won only two games, but were only two years away from winning the Super Bowl.
Cutting the ribbon with DeBartolo would be Miss Florida, Caroline Dungan, and 12-year-old actress Marth Nix who portrayed the character Serena Burton on the television show, “The Waltons.”
According to an article in the Ocala Star-Banner, the festivities also included a musical program presented by the Lake Weir High School Jazz Rock Band and Ensemble.
Before the arrival of the Paddock Mall, farmland adorned the space on College Road and traffic was light. The mall paved the way for development along both sides of SR 200 all the way to the I-75 interchange. Of course, today, development extends well beyond the I-75 corridor all the way to CR 464, and the advent of the Paddock Mall 42 years ago is a big reason.