Before long, DeBartolo was flying around the Midwest, picking out potential sites for prospective strip shopping plazas. In September 1961, he went the next step further and opened Mentor, Ohio's GREAT LAKES MALL. Soon, there would be malls going up in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Melbourne, Florida and Lima, Ohio. When the 1960s came to a close, there were ten DeBartolo malls in full operation.

In 1972, Forbes Magazine named "Mr. D" the nation's top mall builder. By late 1973, he had implemented twenty-one enclosed shopping centers; these located in the states of Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Indiana, New York, Tennessee and New Jersey.

The Sunshine State became the primary focus of DeBartolo's mall development, with twelve being built in Florida. By 1980, there were also DeBartolo malls in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, Washington State and California. By the mid-1980s, his company was the nation's largest mall owner-operator.


Delving into other areas of entrepreneurial endeavor, DeBartolo opened the Toledo Foreign Trade Zone, purchased several horse racing parks and became the owner of the San Francisco 49ers football and Pittsburgh Penguins hockey franchises.

Edward J. DeBartolo was given the Italian government's Order of Merit in 1981 and received his highest honor when Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1988. DeBartolo died in December 1994, after having developed a total of fifty-one shopping malls and eleven strip plazas.