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Small business owners at the new Ocala Mall say they are thriving and plan to expand

Lorene and her husband have a variety of items to sell, including elegant gowns, antiques, glasses, toys and hats. (Destiny Dunning/WUFT News)
Lorene and her husband have a variety of items to sell, including elegant gowns, antiques, glasses, toys and hats. (Destiny Dunning/WUFT News)

Every turn reveals a maze of items from clothing and perfumes, to action figures and posters, and visitors even have the option to get ice cream and smoothies.

It has been almost two weeks since the new Ocala Mall opened where the Kmart used to be on East Silver Springs Boulevard. The mall has close to 160 new small business vendors and already has plans to expand.

“They’re all different and unique, and so they can actually come and spend the whole day in here and shop for whatever they need,” said Leslie Hill, the mall's president.

Since the Ocala Mall officially opened, several small business owners are finding they love their new home.

During the week, business at the mall is steady and surprising, according to some of the business owners. The vendors said they have been doing decent sales on weekdays, but weekends are still the busiest.

Lorene Raines, 79, is one of the owners of a small business called E’lore Boutique and Thingz. She and her husband and partner, Johnny Cloud, are the ones in charge of running their business.

The goal of this business is to sell elegant gowns in a variety of sizes along with other items customers may be interested in from dolls, glasses, toys and hats.

“Plus-size women do not have a dress store anymore,” she said.

According to RetailWire, plus-size clothing is being cut from markets because companies have to spend more money to produce larger clothing and sometimes require special manufacturing techniques.   

Alexandra Waldman, co-founder of a size-inclusive label called Universal Standard, said in Vogue Business, “Factories often lack experience in making clothes of an extended size, and looms are often not designed to make sweaters in larger sizes, especially if you’re looking to make something seamless.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a decrease in the production of plus-size clothing due to fabric shortages, decreased labor availability and other manufacturing concerns, according to Future Market Insights.

Raines said she orders clothing from a catalog for her clients if she does not have it in person. She has them shipped to the mall to be picked up or customers can get them shipped to their homes.

Raines said she resells many items other than clothing which is why she added the name “Thingz” to her business. Wherever she can find items for a cheaper price, she and her husband make sure to grab them and sell them for a reasonable price.

“Saturdays are one of the best days,” she said.

She said business has been good for her during the week even though the busiest days are on the weekend. She said she was surprised at the amount of money she made during the week.

Raines said she had a daughter who passed away in 2020. She said she keeps her with her in spirit while she runs their business. She also said that shopping and selling items were her daughter's favorite things to do.

“She would be into this,” she said referring to the resell items  “She would be with me when we went to purchase items,”

She said she and all the other small businesses around her have a great relationship, and they all help give business to each other.

“A small family,”  was how she described the mall. She said she plans on remaining at the mall because she loves the people she is surrounded by.

Johanna Marrero Diaz is another small business owner at the mall. Her business, Jo’Carms, sells luxury jewelry. She said she’s been an entrepreneur since she was 11 when she would sell her aunt’s clothing.

This is one of the five businesses she has, but it's the only store people can physically go to for now. The rest of her businesses are online.

“I love starting businesses, seeing it grow and succeed,” she said.

Her goal for the jewelry business is to give people the opportunity to wear high-end clothing for an affordable price.

Diaz said this year she plans on having all her businesses succeed, and so far they are. She said she plans on expanding more because she enjoys it.

“It became fun,” she said.

She said this business is doing very well and she has a lot of returning customers.

“We have repetitive customers because we’re very attentive with our customers,” she said.

Some of her regular customers can’t walk or need to have a scooter. She said she designed her business to accommodate these people. She said she has couches for the guests to sit on while she brings them jewelry to choose from. And sometimes she has something for them to drink.

Diaz said she loves the community she’s in at the mall because the vendors around her are supportive.

“We all complement each other, ” she said.

She said that all the owners around her recommend their customers to the other businesses around them, keeping the flow of income possible for these small business owners.

“They treat us like family,” she said.

Destiny is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.