Who didn’t like going to the malls in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s?
In the days before Amazon and big-box stores and gaming from your phone, people in South Florida spent time at the mall.
Miami Beach people went to the Omni across the causeway for strudel at the bakery and a movie at the multiplex.
New suburbanites in Kendall poured into Dadeland for the day.
Parents took their kids to the then-open-air 163rd Street Shopping Center for a spin on the rides in front of Burdines.
While Dadeland is still a big thing, the Omni mall is long-closed and the 163rd Street center is enclosed and in the shadows of the sprawling Aventura Mall just to the northeast.
As another holiday shopping season is here, let’s take a look at the early days of our favorite malls in Miami-Dade and Broward:
When the Omni International Mall opened in 1977, it changed the way we lived.
On breaks, downtown workers dashed in to make a quick purchase or have lunch at one of the restaurants or the food court.
Teenagers from Little Havana, Overtown and Miami Beach descended on the mall after school and on weekends to see the latest movie at the multiplex, hang out in the record store or take a spin on the carousel.
People who lived in Mid-Beach and South Beach now had a relatively close place to shop and eat with just a quick ride over one of the causeways.
Wealthy Venezuelans bought lots of big-ticket items during a boom in the Latin American economy.
Customers headed to the bakery to buy some cinnamon bread, browse through the bookstore, search for the latest sales.
The Omni, lording over Biscayne Boulevard between 14th and 15th streets, was modern, weather-proof, convenient and fun. It was anchored on one side by J.C. Penney and the other by Jordan Marsh, which became Burdines in the mall’s later years.
The mall opened in 1977 along with a hotel, also called the Omni International. Before the mall and hotel were built, the free-standing Jordan Marsh ruled the corner, diagonally across the street from the Sears tower, where Miami’s performing arts center now stands.
Drivers heading to the Omni had the convenience of a new parking garage. County buses stopped in front of the complex along Biscayne Boulevard, and later just across a side street at a new bus depot that was at the bottom of a raised Metromover station.
By the 1990s, the Omni was feeling its age and purpose. Newer suburban malls had opened. The department stores went out and other specialty stores left. By 2000, the Omni mall closed, although the hotel and the memories remain.
When it opened on October 1, 1962, on Kendall Drive off U.S. 1, Dadeland was dubbed ‘deadland’ because North Kendall Drive, which passes in front of it, was branded “The Road to Nowhere.”
Built as an open-air strip center, Dadeland started up at 400,000 square feet with 62 merchants, including Burdines as its only anchor. But Miami-Dade’s explosive population growth along with the construction of thousands of affordable units of tract housing, the opening of the Palmetto Expressway, the expansion of Kendall Drive into a four-lane highway and the appearance of important community institutions, like Baptist Hospital, radically transformed ”horse country” into a flourishing community. Dadeland became a thriving retail outlet. By the end of the 1960s, a rapidly expanding Dadeland was enclosed and converted to a mall.
By the 1970s, Kendall had become Miami-Dade’s fastest growing community, with this trend accelerating in the 1980s. By the ’90s, Dadeland Mall was the busiest shopping mall in the continental United States.
The Aventura Mall in Northeast Miami-Dade opened in 1984, with a huge food court and South Florida’s first Macy’s store. There was even a mini-Thanksgiving Day parade in the parking lot to celebrate.
In later expansions, the mall added movie theaters and boutiques. New wings have since opened and a two-story Apple store moved in to one of them, with a 93-foot slide opened right outside.
The original food court, Treats, was replaced by a more upscale food hall. So, no more Taco Viva for you like in the early years.