Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Customers Happily Lost in New Mall Experience; Thousands Braved Tired Feet, the Cold and the Hunt for Parking to Check out St. Johns Town Center

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Customers Happily Lost in New Mall Experience; Thousands Braved Tired Feet, the Cold and the Hunt for Parking to Check out St. Johns Town Center

Article excerpt

Byline: THOMAS LAKE, The Times-Union

The air sounded like jazz and smelled like sauteed garlic as Sasha Marshall clip-clopped down the sidewalk past Banana Republic Friday afternoon. She stood 10 feet tall and wore purple. Her legs seemed oddly long and slender . . .

Stilts. Sasha is 14, usually 5-foot-1, a freshman at the A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology. She is one of the Mocko Jumbie Stilt Dancers, who, in African tradition, appear at festivals and repel evil spirits. They played a grand opening that also had a man who swallowed fire, two men who juggled torches and several clowns with hair like cotton candy.

People ask questions when a 10-foot teen walks by. Sasha's most common: "How's the weather up there?"

Her response: Same as down there.

Cold.

In Jacksonville in March, anything under 50 is cold.

Nevertheless, thousands came to Gate Parkway just north of Butler Boulevard Friday to see St. Johns Town Center, the city's first new major shopping complex in 15 years. Hard numbers were unavailable, but property managers said turnout surpassed expectations. By late afternoon, cars filled many to most of the parking lot's 4,800 spaces.

They carried people like Melissa Kennedy, who planned to wait in a long line at the Cheesecake Factory for a rich dessert and deliver it to her husband. He was home watching March Madness.

People like Lula Alexander, who led five of her children and grandchildren on a foot-numbing foray across an open-air center as large as 21 football fields.

"They need a trolley," she said. "It's very nice, but they need a trolley."

People like the Phelps family, who moved here from Irvine, Calif., four years ago and couldn't wait to see the city get a hip Italian chain restaurant like Maggiano's. Bob Phelps took a half-day at his software consulting job. …

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