Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shopping in the Woods

              A few times a week, I meet my best friend and cohort in “crime,” Becky, to walk The Gardens Mall for exercise.  There are lots of stories about the messes she and I have found ourselves in, but those belong in a longer story.  And no comments from those who knew us in high school about how things haven’t changed a bit. We get those same comments from our kids who swear we act like fourteen year olds a good portion of the time.
The mall is a safe, cool area to walk when it’s dark or when Florida summers are just too hot to contemplate walking outside.  As those of you who’ve been in Florida during the summer know, some days, it’s brutal to walk even the distance from the car to the cool air-conditioning behind the glass entry doors.
As I pulled into the parking lot to meet Becky last Saturday, I had one of those moments. The ones that make me stop and say, “hmmm.” Having grown up only a town away in North Palm Beach, we drove by the area where the Gardens Mall now sits a lot and I found my self reminiscing about what was there before the first foundation was poured and Burdines first opened its doors there.
 So, I went digging for information. I found out the mall first opened on PGA near I-95 in Palm Beach Gardens in 1988. I was living in Broward County then and missed the grand opening.
Before the 1.4 million square feet of luxury known as The Gardens Mall was built, though, that area was nothing but Florida scrub. Unusual for most parts of Florida, there were a few small hills that made my brother and his dirt-bike riding friends ecstatic.
The website for the City of Palm Beach Gardens describes the pre-development city as one of cow pastures, pine trees and swamplands. That pretty much is how I remember it.
In 1970, there were only about 7,000 people living in Palm Beach Gardens.  By the late 1970s when I was tooling around northern Palm Beach County in my huge 1968 yellow and white Buick Skylark, Palm Beach Gardens was primarily residential with most streets bearing the names of flowers. A few apartment buildings and some business buildings scattered along Military Trail and PGA Boulevard, but not much was west of Military Trail. When I-95 was finally completed between Fort Pierce and Palm Beach Gardens in 1987, business started booming and by the time The Gardens Mall opened, it seemed the entire area had exploded.
There’s not much left of the woods the mall replaced. This part of the city is crowded most days. A boon to the tax base and a beautiful place to shop, but between you and me, I still long for the woods sometimes. I have found a compromise, though. When I get to the mall before Becky, I sit on the benches outside the entrance by Ruby Tuesdays and listen to the fountains. Tiny birds flit in and out of the bushes and bright flowers bloom above the perfectly manicured lawns.

It’s not the woods I remember being here, but it’ll do in a pinch.


  1. That is a gorgeous mall. I'd miss the woods, too. I bet you like the AC better in the summer, though!

    1. We WERE walking the heart trail in Jupiter until it became unbearably hot! Not to mention getting dark so early. Of course, we could go back to the heart trail, but now we really, really like the window shopping :)