Mill Creek Mall
1312-1392 East Vine Street, Kissimmee, FL
When the topic of malls in the Orlando area comes up in conversation, the conversation can go many ways. If you're in the mood for some serious shopping, the Florida Mall is always a good choice. Being the largest mall in the state, there's a little something for everyone there. In addition to the Florida Mall, there's also the Mall at Millenia for your shopping needs, that is if stores like Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus are within your price range. While those are Orlando's thriving malls, the topic of Orlando's ailing malls also comes up too, especially among the folk who are probably reading this post. West Oaks Mall, Orlando Fashion Square, and Festival Bay Mall/Artegon Marketplace usually steal the show in conversations about Orlando's dead mall scene. A little closer to home for this post is Osceola Square Mall, another popular troubled mall in the Orlando area that gets mentioned from time to time. The only major enclosed shopping center on the Osceola County side of the Orlando metro area, Osceola Square Mall spent a good 20 years anchoring Kissimmee's retail strip along US 192. As the area began to change in the 2000's and newer retail centers (such as The Loop) began to open in Kissimmee's northern fringes, Osceola Square began its downfall into dead malls fame. While Osceola Square gets all of Kissimmee's dead mall glory (not sure if that's something to brag about or not), most people from outside the area don't even realize that Osceola County has a second mall hiding on the eastern edge of town. Opening 5 years prior to Osceola Square, Mill Creek Mall quietly found its place as a community shopping destination serving the eastern neighborhoods of Kissimmee. Mill Creek Mall's unorthodox design is probably what keeps it off the radar of most dead mall seekers, as it looks suspiciously like a normal shopping center from the front (and above). However, behind that facade is a mall - a small but strange one - but it's there, so this place does live up to its name.
Opening in November 1980, Mill Creek Mall was constructed at the southeastern corner of US 192 and the Oak Street Extension, on the edge of Mill Slough (a.k.a. Mill Creek, hence the mall's name). While designed in more of a neighborhood shopping center style, Mill Creek Mall's three original anchor tenants (Bealls Department Store, Publix, and Eckerd Drugs) were all connected to each other by an enclosed corridor of smaller stores, giving this place the "mall" part of its name. The locations of the three original anchors can be seen in the satellite image above, as well as the sections of enclosed mall corridor connecting the three anchors together. None of the anchors ever opened into the mall corridors themselves, with the corridors serving as enclosed connectors to carry shoppers throughout the complex. In addition to the anchors, some of the smaller tenants that occupied the "mall" portions of the complex included Cato Fashions, Hickory Farms, Kissimmee Optical, Perkins Restaurant, Baskin-Robbins, Magic Wok Chinese Restaurant, Denim Den, a jewelry store, an art gallery, a travel agency, a western wear store, a music store, and a few other local shops. In all, the mall portion of Mill Creek Mall included about 20 smaller tenants, so this was never a very large place.
Mill Creek Mall was a thriving retail destination through the late 1990's, when some shake-ups with the anchor tenants began. Bealls was the first anchor to leave Mill Creek Mall, relocating to Osceola Square in 1997. Publix left Mill Creek Mall in 1998 after a dispute with the landlord, where Publix claimed the landlord was failing to uphold their share of the building maintenance. Due to the dispute, Publix built a new store a few miles east of here at Simpson and Fortune Roads to replace the Mill Creek Mall location. Shortly before Publix relocated, the mall changed ownership. While it was too late to prevent Publix from leaving, the new owners of Mill Creek Mall put in the effort to fix the place up, with repairs that included repaving the mall's parking lot, modernizing the plaza's facade, and adding a few new outparcels to the front of the property. One of those new outparcels was a freestanding Eckerd store, replacing the location within the mall complex itself. The Eckerd was built on the site of a bank, the bank relocating to a new building next to the freestanding Eckerd. In addition to Eckerd and the bank, the last phase of the outparcel additions included a new strip of stores on the property's eastern boundary, an "annex" you can say to the main mall building. As for the mall's empty anchors, the old Publix building found new life shortly after Publix left, the space getting split in half to house a Big Lots and Bealls Outlet. The empty Bealls department store became home to Workforce Central Florida (later CareerSource of Central Florida), and the original in-line Eckerd space became home to a Family Dollar. The "mall" portion of Mill Creek Mall has been able to hold its own through the years too, even if the mall isn't as glorious of a place as it was 30 years ago. The smaller tenants have shifted to mostly locally owned ones, especially locally owned office-type places. All the smaller spaces on the outer part of the mall corridor have exterior entrances, keeping those storefronts rather lively in some way (and creating the illusion this is a normal strip center). The spaces on the inner part of the mall corridor, which are only accessible from within the mall corridor itself, have almost exclusively become home to offices.
Returning to ground level, here's a look across the entirety of the Mill Creek Mall. From this angle, it's easy to mistake this place as a plain old shopping center, as nothing entirely "mall-like" jumps out at you until getting closer to the place. Upon my first visit to the Mill Creek Mall a few years back, I wasn't even aware a mall was hidden away within this building (as I visited this place only expecting to document the former Publix - I hadn't bothered to dig into the history of the complex as a whole at the time). Like many of my retail road trip destinations, sometimes I find more than I bargained for! Anyway, the low-roof portions of the building sticking out from the rest of the complex comprise the two mall corridors. The mall's anchors and the tenants in the back of the mall are located in the portion of the building with the taller facade. While it looks like the back part of the building is two floors, it's not. That's just a tall facade, probably to make the smaller shops stand out from the rest of the mall.
As we meander our way through Mill Creek Mall, we'll begin our tour with the former Bealls department store anchor. From here we'll work our way through the rest of the complex, spending most of our time looking at the old mall corridors and the former Publix space (the most interesting parts of the entire place, as those parts of the mall are seeping with relics of retail past).
The former Bealls department store space is rather nondescript these days. The facade has been dressed up a bit from its original look, and all the years this place spent as offices for the career center would have stripped any remaining relics from the interior.
CareerSource of Central Florida relocated their offices from this building to a new one across the street on Valencia College's campus in January 2020. I took these photos of the former Bealls store about a month later, showing what the place looked like after CareerSource vacated the premises. The photos we'll be seeing in today's post were taken on two separate occasions - the post blending photos taken in May 2016 and February 2020. The original set of photos I took way back when focused mostly on the former Publix, with the goal of my return visit to capture more (and much better) photos of the rest of the mall. One problem with returning for photos four years after taking the original set is things change, and there was a decent amount of change that happened at Mill Creek Mall between 2016 and 2020. The changes will become quite apparent as we go through the rest of the post.
With the old Bealls anchor out of the way, it's time we move on to the part of the post you guys all want to see - the mall corridor. Connecting the former Bealls with the former Publix is this corridor, which we'll call the east mall corridor. The mall corridor is accessed via doors located at the side of each anchor, located where the storefronts jut out from the taller facade.
All the storefronts on the outer portions of each mall corridor have exterior entrances, as you can see here. I believe the exterior entrances were an original design feature. Considering how this place was designed as a shopping center/mall hybrid, I don't think the exterior entrances to these stores were a later addition. From the exterior, the east corridor has quite the decent occupancy rate, with all the exterior storefronts filled.
Entering the east corridor through these doors to the side of the old Bealls, what do we have in store inside the mall?...
...well, we have this. Yes, the funky early 80's architecture is a huge plus here, but from within the mall corridor, you'd think Mill Creek Mall was hanging in by a thread. Hardly any of the stores with exterior entrances use their back doors connecting to the mall corridor these days. With most of the outer storefronts cutting off access to the mall, and the inner storefronts being home to quiet offices, Mill Creek Mall's "mall" portion isn't the most hopping place in the world anymore. The mall's east corridor is the quieter of the two mall corridors, with the east corridor not even open for public access on weekends anymore.
As quiet as the mall corridor is these days, what really makes this place is that it's received so few updates since the mall first opened in 1980. Brick planters, funky skylights, wood paneling, those rectangular brown tiles - all the features of an 80's shopping mall, still alive and well in the 2020s in Kissimmee.
The east corridor is seeing a little more action in this photo, where a few people were passing through, and someone was sitting on one of the benches built into the brick planters.
Even though the last few photos depicted the east corridor in 2016, very little has changed within the mall corridor in this photo, where we jump ahead to 2020. Even though the mall owners gave up on tending to the plants, the planters and benches are still in place. Besides the lack of plants, the only major change to the building's design I noticed between 2016 and 2020 was that someone covered over the upper skylights in both mall corridors. I'm sure that's just a piece of painted wood covering the skylight, so it's not like it was removed completely. And we still have the angled skylights too, however without those, this place would be really dark inside!
To the side of the Publix entrance into the east corridor were these funky shaped windows. I thought they were an unusual sight, and that the odd shape was a good compliment to the funky architecture within the mall itself.
Anyway, we'll have more mall coming up in just a bit when we hop over to the west corridor, but lying between the two halves of the mall is the former Publix store:
Located in the center of Mill Creek Mall is this former Publix, store #228. As I mentioned before, after Publix left the mall in 1998, this space was split between a Big Lots and Bealls Outlet. Entering the early 2010's, both Big Lots and Bealls Outlet decided to relocate from Mill Creek Mall to larger spaces nearby. Big Lots left Mill Creek Mall to occupy a long-vacant mid-70's Publix a few miles to the west of here (jumping from half a Publix to occupying the entire thing after the move). Because there's plenty of old Publix to go around, Bealls Outlet also left Mill Creek Mall to relocate to a different former Publix store on the southern side of town, occupying half of that much larger building. With Big Lots and Bealls Outlet gone, the former Publix building sat vacant once again. Fortunately, it didn't take long for the mall's owners to find two new tenants for the space. The Big Lots half of the old Publix became home to a new Goodwill store, Goodwill relocating from a smaller space in the Winn-Dixie plaza across the street. The former Bealls Outlet became home to a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for a short time in the mid-2010's, but is now home to an independent grocery store called Willer's Supermarket, which opened in December 2017. Due to the span between my two photosets, we'll be seeing both the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and Willer's Supermarket in today's post - the joys of
AFB's inability to post photos in a timely manner time travel! But we'll see those stores in a bit, as first, we're off to Goodwill...
Stepping onto the front walkway, we can see that very little has changed on the exterior of this building from its days as a Publix - design-wise, that is. Aesthetic-wise, I do have a grievance to air, specifically a fake stone covered grievance...
Someone apparently thought it would be a great idea to cover both of this store's immaculately preserved tile murals with boring fake stone. For 20 years after Publix left the building, no one thought to bother these murals, so I don't know why someone decided now was the time to cover these over. It's always a tragedy to see these murals get ripped down and covered over, especially when you consider how much time went into creating these murals.
At least to got to document the Mill Creek Mall tile murals during my first photographic foray to this place in 2016. It was sometime in 2019 when the murals were covered over, based on what I've heard. At the same time the murals were covered over, the building was repainted and the upper skylights in the mall corridors were covered over. While the owners of this place seem to care enough to do some minor upkeep to the building, it's just a shame it came at the expense of the murals.
Murals aside, we'll next turn our attention toward Goodwill's entrance. Goodwill uses Publix's old concave entryway setup, a design Publix used on nearly all their stores built through the early 1980's. While many Publix stores had these concave entryways ripped out for enclosed vestibules during remodels in the 1990's, this store never received that update. The sliding doors also appear to be original to Publix as well.
Stepping inside Goodwill, the Publix relics just don't stop! As you can see, the original striped terrazzo floors and raised ceiling from Publix remain to this very day. The raised ceiling even retains its exposed wood transition, something that Publix would have painted over in later remodels. What's neat is all these relics survived through two different tenants, although it helps that both of the tenants to occupy this side of the building (Big Lots and Goodwill) were never known for doing super extensive remodels in the past.
It's a bit odd seeing the raised ceiling chopped in half like it is, but seeing all the strange ways old supermarket buildings get preserved and repurposed is what makes this hobby so fascinating to me. Supermarket conversions have always been a big interest of mine, even before I thought to take pictures of these places. All these Publix relics, in addition to a strange old mall stuck in the 1980's, made this place a complete package for retail exploration for me. I guess you could call it a win-win! (Or maybe not, as that's the slogan of Publix's competitor 😀)
Wandering throughout the Goodwill side of the store, we'll get plenty of views of the old terrazzo and the raised ceiling. As for Goodwill's decor, the multi-color look we see here is what Goodwill of Central Florida has been using for quite a few years now. With Goodwill of Central Florida relocating numerous smaller stores in the late 2010's to larger locations, they've been pretty good at upgrading nearly all of their stores to this look.
Certainly lots of stuff in here...
...and amongst all that stuff I found this small retail relic - an old video game with a Kmart price sticker on it. According to Google, this game was released in 2001. The Kmart tag probably dates to the early 2000's as well, although you never know when Kmart could have dusted something off from the backroom and put it out for sale!
Here's one last look at Goodwill's well-preserved Publix interior before we move things next door...
Back outside, here's one final look toward Goodwill's entryway.
During my 2016 visit to Mill Creek Mall, a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store occupied the right half of the former Publix space.
Since Big Lots/Goodwill got Publix's main entryway, Bealls Outlet/Habitat Re-Store's entryway had to be carved out of one of Publix's front windows, pictured to my right.
Stepping inside the Habitat Re-Store, it's apparent Bealls Outlet spent more on their conversion efforts than Big Lots did. Bealls Outlet covered the old terrazzo with tile, and stripped out the ceiling for a new one. That being said, there wasn't much to see in here from Publix like there was in the Goodwill half of the building. Even merchandise wise, there wasn't much to see in here either. Besides a little bit of furniture and some other odds and ends, half of the Re-Store's sales floor was empty (and nearly every Habitat Re-Store I've been to is packed with stuff, so this was weird to see). I must have been here as this place was in the process of closing, as just a little over a year after I took these photos, Willer's Supermarket would be operating in this space. While the Kissimmee Habitat for Humanity Re-Store closed sometime in 2016, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando and Osceola County closed all of their remaining Re-Store locations in January 2019.
Most of the Re-Store's merchandise was pushed toward the back of the building, so the sales floor seemed less empty from this angle behind the kitchen counters.
Jumping ahead a few years to 2020, the right side of the former Publix building becomes a bit more lively with the arrival of Willer's Supermarket. Willer's Supermarket opened in December 2017, the first location of the Willer's grocery chain in the mainland United States. According to news articles from when this store first opened, Willer's is a grocery chain from Puerto Rico that decided to expand into Florida as the state's Puerto Rican population began to surge post-Hurricane Maria. Willer's Kissimmee store was praised at its opening for importing a large number of hard to find Puerto Rican products to Florida. At the time of this store's opening, Willer's had announced plans to open more stores around Orlando and also Tampa. As far as I can tell, this is still the only Willer's Supermarket in Florida, as Google only pulls up this location. Willer's operations in both Florida and Puerto Rico lack websites, so I really don't know much about the company. This article from the Kissimmee location's grand opening goes into a little more detail about Willer's and the products the store sells, but that's all I can find.
A little bit of paint and some standard grocery store fixtures gave the old Bealls Outlet/Habitat Re-Store space a more vibrant look. Willer's entire decor is a huge tribute to Puerto Rico, with lots of pictures from the island on the walls, tributes to various Puerto Rican cities, and even aisle markers designed in the shape of Puerto Rico (which we'll see up close momentarily).
A giant "Puerto Rico" sign takes up the majority of the store's back wall, hanging over the meat coolers. Anyway, these first few photos from inside Willer's were taken in the produce department, which occupies the right side of the space.
Here's an overview of the produce department, which occupies an over-sized aisle 1.
Like I promised before, here's a close-up of one of the custom designed aisle markers this store uses, shaped like Puerto Rico.
Since Willer's occupies a former Bealls Outlet located in half of an old Publix, it's not a very big store. Willer's had around 6 aisles total, although the aisles were pretty long since they ran from the front to back of the building. As you can see here, while Willer's specialty is hard-to-find products from Puerto Rico as well as other Hispanic-oriented groceries, they also carried some mainstream products as well.
From the look of it, Willer's raided a former Publix store for all of its fixtures. These two coolers are very much from a Publix, as the "Cool It • Chill Out • Take It Easy" slogan on the top of the cooler identifies it as a former case from the Publix Deli. Willer's check lanes are also Publix ones, and the shelving and coolers are probably from Publix too (however, the origins of those items aren't as easily identifiable by eye). While not from the Publix originally located in this space, I still managed to stumble across Publix relics in here too!
Here's a look across the back wall of Willer's, essentially looking from one side of the store to the other. This part of the store was home to meats and frozen foods, with a meat counter located behind me.
Speaking of that counter, here it is. It's not quite a full service counter, but the window looking into the back room makes it appear like one.
Looking across the left side of the store, we find more meat coolers mixed in with the regular groceries in this aisle.
Returning to the front of the store, here's a look at the quiet front end. There was only one other person shopping in here as I was walking around taking photos, which surprised me, as I visited this store on a weekend afternoon when the rest of the complex was quite lively.
Taking a closer look at the front lanes, you can easily tell these counters came to Willer's from Publix. The lane lights and their posts are the classic Publix cube design. While lanes 1-3 use generic white cubes now (as the original cubes would have had the Publix logo on the side), the service desk (the only check lane open while I was here) used an original Publix express lane cube light.
Exiting Willer's, we'll begin to make our way toward Mill Creek Mall's western corridor. However, before we do that, we need to do some more tile mural appreciation...
The tile mural on the right side of the former Publix building continued the mountain village theme we saw on the other mural. The mountain village theme, along with the cornucopia/wine bottle one, were the two most common Publix tile mural themes out there. While many of the tile murals shared themes, no two were ever exactly the same. Like its counterpart on the other side of the building, this mural was also covered over in fake stone in 2019 (but this time, I'll spare you all a close-up photo of that tragedy).
Now that we've finished our look at the former Publix building, off we go through these doors into the western corridor of Mill Creek Mall...
Mill Creek Mall's west corridor is an exact copy of the east corridor, featuring the same skylights, floor tile, planters, and benches. The mall's west corridor is also the "busier" corridor, as more of the businesses on this side of the mall actually use their mall entrances.
Speaking of businesses located in this side of the mall, let's start off on a high note with this obvious Baskin Robbins labelscar! Scoops4U clearly wasn't trying hard to cover that labelscar, especially with that tiny little banner of theirs. Baskin Robbins was an original tenant to Mill Creek Mall, opening with the mall in 1980 and closing sometime in the 2013/2014 time frame. I'm quite surprised Baskin Robbins lasted as long as it did here, as it's been years since I've seen a stand alone BR location (as every one I know of now is combined with a Dunkin Donuts). Scoops4U came along shortly after Baskin Robbins closed, and from the looks of things, didn't change much.
Unfortunately, Scoops4U didn't last long, closing sometime in 2017 from what I can scrape up online. When Willer's Supermarket opened in late 2017, they took over the old Baskin Robbins/Scoops4U storefront, converting the space into a sandwich shop called El Punto Sandwiches de Willers. Even though the place is a sandwich shop now, and the "Baskin Robbins" part of the labelscar has been painted over, Willer's never bothered to take down the "Ice Cream" part of the mall sign. While I'm not sure if El Punto sells ice cream, it certainly doesn't seem like ice cream is their focus. However, they seem to be in no rush to change or remove this sign, which is something I'm not going to complain about. That sign is original to the mall's opening in 1980, and upon the mall's opening, all the mall tenants would have had matching signs in that same font above each of their respective storefronts.
Even though there's no ice cream to be found at Mill Creek Mall anymore, we still have our fair share of 1980's aesthetics to see in the west corridor.
Like Baskin Robbins, Kissimmee Optical (pictured here) was also an original tenant to Mill Creek Mall, and probably one of the only, if not the only, original tenant left within the mall itself. Since this place dates back so far, it too retains its original sign in the mall corridor, the only other original sign besides the "Ice Cream" one to survive into the 2020's.
I really like all the natural lighting these skylights bring in, in addition to the design of them. These skylights let in so much natural light, there isn't any need to turn on the corridor lights throughout the day. It's bright enough as it is!
Since my 2020 photos were taken on a Sunday afternoon, they don't help to make the mall look any livelier. Since most of the in-line mall tenants who still use the corridor entrances are offices, which are closed on Sunday, there weren't too many people hanging around in the mall itself.
I don't believe the east corridor had a hallway like this, but here on the west side, this hallway broke off from the mall corridor about halfway through, running toward the back of the building. While it seems intriguing, this hallway only leads to mailboxes for the mall tenants, a set of bathrooms, and an emergency exit.
Rounding out our tour of Mill Creek Mall, here are a few final photos of the west corridor, looking back toward the former Publix:
Exiting the west corridor, we find ourselves on the sidewalk leading to the mall's original Eckerd space. This photo looks back toward the mall entrance, however, spinning around...
...we find the front of the former Eckerd space.
During my 2016 visit to Mill Creek Mall, the Family Dollar that had taken over this space in the years after Eckerd's relocation had closed and been sitting empty.
Family Dollar retained the old Eckerd entryway setup during their time here.
Peeking through the doors, we find more Family Dollar remnants than Eckerd ones, as would be exptected.
Come 2020, the former Eckerd/Family Dollar space would become home to All Star Mattress and Furniture, a locally-owned discount furniture store.
Stepping into the parking lot, we can see where the mall corridor sticks out from the rest of the building.
Kissimmee Optical is located in the corner space in front of me, with the exterior entrances of the other front in-line tenants beyond that.
While Osceola Square is interesting in its own respect, its problems were much more visible to others than its quieter counterpart on the other side of town. Even though Mill Creek Mall has stumbled a bit since it opened in 1980, it's still a viable community shopping center with a decent occupancy rate. While the mall corridor itself has become nothing more than an air-conditioned cut-through between the current anchors, it's still a funky flashback to the past, and still serves a purpose to access the office tenants located in the back portion of the mall.
Now that I've gotten all that out of my system, are any of you hungry? I'm in a mood for pizza...
If you're in the mood for pizza while visiting Mill Creek Mall, you're in luck! The little strip mall annex in front of Mill Creek Mall houses one of the area's Cici's Pizza locations. While Cici's status as a broken chain is debatable, the Orlando area still has a good 12 or so of these floating around - this being one of them. Ever since the closure of my local Cici's, this particular location is now the closest to where I live too. Cici's is also one of the biggest draws to Mill Creek Mall these days, as this place was packed on the Sunday afternoon I visited here! Most of the cars in the mall's lot were concentrated over here too.
I actually have a whole post about Cici's to upload to MFR someday, providing a little more insight into Cici's time in Florida. For now though we'll take a quick look at this location in East Kissimmee. Stepping inside, here's a look into the dining room. This location, as of early 2020, still retains Cici's late 2000's design. A lot of the other Cici's franchises in Florida have upgraded to the current look, with this design becoming much less common than it once was.
The crowd just never stopped while I was here, with a steady stream of people at the buffet. By the time I left, most of the tables in the dining room were filled.
In addition to the standard Cici's stock photos, this location had a lot of local sports memorabilia hanging on the walls.
However, I came here to eat, and eat I did! We'll wrap up this post about the Mill Creek Mall with a picture of pizza, my appetite quite good this day. From funky 80's mall architecture to Publix relics to pizza, you can get a little bit of everything at Mill Creek Mall! Well, you get a little bit of everything at Mill Creek Mall if you're a retail history fan that is. If you're a shopaholic, then you'd probably be better off driving the few extra miles to visit the Florida Mall. For me though, I'll take Mill Creek Mall over the Florida Mall any day.
As I sit here with a craving for pizza now, that's all I have for today. So until the next post,