Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – H&M, a Swedish international apparel brand known for its discount prices on trendy clothing for young men and women, plans to open two stores in Sarasota County within a year, a move that baffles some retail analysts but shows that there may be enough business to support more than one mall in the region.
H&M plans to open its second store in Sarasota County, at Westfield Group’s Sarasota Square mall property.
The chain committed to its first store inside the Mall at University Town Center, a $315 million complex set to open Oct. 16 at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.
“This is a surprise to me. H&M is the type of retailer that, usually, would wait to open a second store until after they can see how the first in the market was doing,” said Jeff Green, a Phoenix-based retail analyst. “Westfield must have offered them a very good deal.”
The second store will take over a 21,000-square-foot space in the Westfield Group mall, officials confirmed Thursday morning. Westfield has been preparing for months for H&M.
Building permits filed with the county show that several of the mall’s tenants, including a Verizon Wireless store, Bond Jewelers and the mall management offices, have moved to make room for H&M.
Construction is ongoing, and the retailer is set to open in the spring 2015, well after the opening of the Mall at University Town Center.
H&M has grown in size and popularity in the U.S. during recent years and has expanded into Florida.
The first store to open south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast was in Naples during 2012. Tampa’s Westfield Citrus Park also will see an H&M soon.
The chain has 2,500 stores in 53 countries worldwide.
Like many stores opening in the Mall at University Town Center that are new to the region, H&M has mass appeal among shoppers and is known for drawing large crowds to openings.
“It’s an interesting coup to create a second market in Sarasota,” Green said. “That second store will attract people who live nearby, certainly, but the product won’t differ much from store to store.”
Westfield future firms up
This is the first announcement of many expected to come from Westfield, an Australia-based mall operator that also owns Sarasota’s Southgate mall, as its retail properties transition to better compete with the 880,000-square-foot luxury center opening near Lakewood Ranch.
“We always strive to deliver the latest and best retail offerings for our shoppers,” said Shannon Brzuchalski, marketing manager for Westfield’s properties in Sarasota. “We are so pleased to announce the addition of such a well-known brand as H&M as we continue to make Sarasota Square one of the areas most premier shopping destinations.”
Westfield announced plans to renovate Southgate and turn the center into an outdoor nightlife and dining destination with a new name, “Westfield Siesta Key,” more than a year ago.
A BRAVO! Cucina Italiana restaurant and a Cobb Cinebistro are part of the revamp, though construction has yet to begin.
Several of the mall’s key tenants, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Banana Republic, Gap and Williams-Sonoma, will close existing stores in Southgate mall once UTC opens next month.
H&M is the first addition to Sarasota Square since Costco Wholesale took over the onetime Dillard’s space in August 2012.
Westfield has been courting other brands, including Dick’s Sportings Goods, though a lease has not yet been signed.
Sears, which has been shedding its real estate holdings across the country, sold space to Whole Foods Market in Westfield’s Countryside Mall in Clearwater.
The gourmet grocery store will open in that mall soon. That could also be an option for Sarasota Square, Green said.
Across the street from Sarasota Square, a Total Wine & More and a Sports Authority are opening in a revamped Pelican Plaza, owned by Benderson Development Co., the co-developer of the Mall at University Town Center.
Both Sports Authority and Total Wine have University Parkway stores near the new mall.
“It sounds like they’re trying to develop a secondary retail sector in the south,” Green said. “That way they can attract shoppers who live there — and travel to the Port Charlotte Town Center now for shopping — instead of going toward Lakewood Ranch.”
Benderson Development also has proposed plans for a 250,000-square-foot retail lifestyle center with a 150-room hotel at the corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road called Siesta Promenade.
“As the newness of the mall wears off, people will go back to their old shopping habits,” said Barry Seidel, president of Sarasota’s America Property Group Inc. “The offerings Sarasota has to offer will, of course change, but more retail brands will come in to replace what was maybe there before.
“Tamiami Trail is still a busy part of Sarasota and viable for retail business.”