Shopping the Oaks Mall in Gainesville
By Janet K. Keeler
Need proof that you’re shopping in Gator Nation as you head into the Oaks Mall in Gainesville? Snap a selfie with the menacing alligator statue standing guard on its hind legs near Belk. The big boy is a reminder of what this town is all about.
And there are more reptiles. The store directories in the parking lots are graced with a graphic gator and even the children’s play area invites the kiddies to climb aboard a reptilian back. This one has a cartoon attitude and hardly looks like the tough football players capable of bringing a National Championship to this Alachua County city.
The University of Florida and especially its sports teams loom large in Gainesville. The city’s 130,000 population swells by another 52,000 when classes are in session. Everywhere you look you’ll see people of all ages clad in blue and orange. They are proud of the state’s premiere public university and wear their allegiance on shirts, hoodies, socks, and hats.
It’s not just clothes that sport Gator love. You can find Albert or Alberta Gator on shot glasses, license plates, sippy cups plus aprons and potholder sets. Tailgating is serious business in Gainesville, especially when rival Florida State comes to the Swamp (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), and you can buy UF-festooned plates, napkins, tablecloths and even cake pans in the shape of an alligator.
Once your UF fix is satisfied, set out to explore the rest of Oaks Mall during a day of browsing and buying. (One thing that seems to be missing is a place to order deep-fried gator tail bites. They taste just like chicken, you know.)
Altar’d State fashion boutique, located near anchor store Dillard’s, bills itself as a Christian retail experience and donates part of profits to charities. The company website invites visitors to submit prayer requests. Altar’d State is a fast-growing chain of trendy women’s fashions, with more than 70 boutiques across the country. A sorority sister would find something to wear to almost any event, including rush.
Not far from Altar’d State is Ambassador’s Christian Store, which stocks sacred books and other materials including some in Spanish. It has a heavenly selection of music so if you’re looking for the latest releases from Hillsong Worship, MercyMe or Chris Tomlin you’ll find them here.
Now that the souls of some shoppers are nourished, it’s time to feed the body. There are lots of places to stop for a bite, including Charley’s Philly Steaks and A Perfect Pie. Of a mind to eat Asian cuisine? Head to Maki of Japan for a California sushi roll with hot tea. Asian Chao would fill the belly, too, with barbecue pork soaking into a side of steamed rice.
Now, back to the shopping. And we aren’t sure yet if we’ve gotten enough University of Florida paraphernalia.
So it’s onto Lids, which as the name implies is all about hats, but there are some other items of interest, too. Like Dooney & Bourke team-centric handbags and purses. Yes, they’ve got dangling Gator earrings. Watches with a toothy gator growl on the face, too.
Champs Sports is another shop to find ways to wear your team love on your sleeve (chest or head). They’ve got Gator fever for sure, but there are other teams represented, especially professional squads.
The Oaks Malls is a fun place to play spot-the-Gator shirt. While others shop till they drop, find a perch and count the examples of blue and gold. Make it a competition and the shopper who spots the most, gets some sort of Venti beverage at Starbucks. Award extra points to the first person that spots “Tebow” emblazoned on the back of a T-shirt. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and two collegiate national Championships, remains a star here.
That’s just more proof you're shopping in Gainesville.
When you go…
6419 Newberry Road
Gainesville, FL 32605