Don’t call it ‘slo-cala’: Ocala is quickly becoming a Florida destination

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - Don’t call it ‘slo-cala’ anymore. The southern city in north-central Florida is growing fast.

According to data collected by Applied Geographic Solutions and GIS Planning 2021 and presented by the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (CEP), the leading industry in 2021 was retail. Across 1,941 establishments, more than 18,000 people had jobs in the industry.

Adding to that number in 2022 is Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop. Chris Beers founded the independent chain in 2012, according to the business LinkedIn page, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. There are now six locations in Pennsylvania, five in Ohio, and the first to open in Florida, on Ocala’s downtown square.

“We officially opened on April 7th at 4:05,” the Manager of the Ocala location, Jason Spence happily said. Spence said he’s been eyeing the location on the downtown square for about a year and a half.

All Grandpa Joe locations are operated by local families and are located in historic areas. Spence’s family runs the day-to-day operations at the Ocala sweets shop. “When someone walks through the front door and they stop talking, in awe, then you know you did it right,” said Spence.

But it’s more than just business that counts in Ocala’s growth. It’s everything from retail, to the construction of apartments, and even the potential for a second downtown parking garage.

“Not very long ago downtown wasn’t an inviting place, there wasn’t much to do. Our community was ‘slo-cala’. That’s not the case anymore,” Dir. of Business Advocacy & Outreach for the Ocala CEP Joe Reichel said. “It’s growth all the way across the board.”

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