40 Years later, it’s still all under one roof hp gas


Forty years ago, before Black Friday was Black Friday, shoppers weren’t bracing for midnight openings at outlet malls or setting up tents outside of electronics superstores. Most folks in St. Petersburg had one post-Thanksgiving destination in mind: the new Tyrone Square.

The mall officially opened Oct. 5, 1972, with Miss Florida Suzanne Charles and Lt. Gov. Tom Adams on hand, but only 20 stores were actually up and running. By Thanksgiving, many more of the 109 planned stores were open for business, though parts of the 1-million-square-foot mall were still under construction.

They crowded among the circles of pay phones, between the purple and chartreuse walls and beneath hundreds of mirrored lights. They weren’t there just for shopping, but also to lay eyes on the holiday decorations everyone would be talking about. Never before had so many Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands, lights and holly berries been assembled "under one roof."

Those three words, "under one roof," were used frequently in the more than 100 newspaper articles that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times and Evening Independent after Ohio developer Edward J. DeBartolo announced in early 1971 that he planned to build the mall.

The mall, however, had much more impact on the city than fulfilling shoppers’ dreams of seemingly endless variety in one enclosed space. It was the kindling for the blaze of residential and commercial development that swept through the west side of town.

New housing was already steadily going up in the 1960s, but after the mall was built, the Tyrone area was even more in demand. Smaller shopping centers and another new species of retail, the strip mall, popped up regularly in the decade following Tyrone Square‘s debut.

Tyrone Square offered department stores, 14 women’s wear shops, 10 men’s clothiers, 10 shoe stores, three jewelers, a cheese store, a bookstore, a candle store and even two banks all "under one roof." DeBartolo declared Tyrone Square would be "the best shopping mall that has been built to date in the U.S."

"I think everybody in town was excited about the mall opening and the ability to go there and get a variety of things," said Betty Willis, who was a mother of two young children at the time. "Having things all together was a big help. It did make a big difference.

The Maas Brothers store offered decor not seen before. The juniors department featured a phone booth and a working juke box. The preteen section, labeled Shindig Corner, also played groovy tunes such as Chicago’s Saturday in the Park on its juke box. The men’s department had various raised and recessed platforms where it showcased not only classic suits but even "the latest assortment of colorful underwear."

Other popular shops included Wicks ‘N’ Sticks. It didn’t just sell round candles. They came in hundreds of shapes from spotted mushrooms to the word "love." Spencer Gifts had its black light section with glowing bumper stickers and in 1976 would sell thousands of iconic posters of Farrah Fawcett in her red bathing suit for $3.99 each.

"It was the boondocks. They announced 100 stores were coming in and I thought ‘100 stores? Wow,’ " she recalled. "When it opened it was really nice to have an air-conditioned mall with plenty of parking exactly a mile from my house. I measured it."

"Parking is the main problem," he said at the time. "Do you know I had two customers just yesterday whose husbands drove around and around the block and couldn’t find parking spaces? … There’s no new retail business coming downtown. Everything is offices, and that doesn’t draw people down here."

"When they opened up in Tyrone my business fell down to nothing," 94-year-old Ray Geiger, who owned the A&W drive-in restaurant on Central Avenue, lamented recently. For more than a decade car hops on roller skates stayed busy delivering papa burgers, mama burgers and baby burgers and root beer floats to customers in their cars.

While it now boasts 170 stores, including anchors Sears, Dillard’s, JCPenney and Macy’s and recently landed the very popular H&M, it’s not the first choice for many of the city’s shoppers. A lot prefer to drive a little longer for the bargains of Ellenton Premium Outlets or chic ambiance and designer labels of International Plaza.