Hidden Gate Gifts closes as Mall at UTC moves in

srocco@bradenton.comMay 1, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- As the Mall at University Town Center comes together, and online shopping becomes more dominant, the little Hidden Gate Gifts shop at 8455 Cooper Creek Blvd. is forced to close, owners say.

The shop earns most of its profits from selling home decor as well as Vera Bradley and Baggallini purses and accessories.

Owners Barbara Diederich and LeeAnn Pettis say they cannot compete with neighboring stores in the Shoppes at University Town Center such as Pier 1 Imports, Kirkland's and Marshalls. And with the new mall due to open in October, surviving will become even harder, they say.

"We can't be unique anymore because Macy's or Dillard's is going to carry Vera Bradley. All those stores are going to carry what we carry," said Diederich, 51.

Hidden Gate Gifts used to be one of the most prominent Vera Bradley sellers in the region, but a Vera Bradley pop-up has opened at Ellenton Premium Outlets and could possibly open in the new mall so the handbag company told Hidden Gate it had to stop selling Vera bags.

The shop also sells the same potpourri Macy's carries and a Pandora-like line of jewelry called Chamilia. While a Pandora store at the mall hasn't been announced, Diederich and Pettis are confident one will open there and knock out most of their Chamilia clientele.

Store owners say they are also afraid traffic congestion will heighten as the mall opens and customers will opt to do all their shopping there instead of battling traffic to come to Hidden Gate.

"Customers come in saying they're afraid of the traffic that's going to come to this area," said Pettis, 45.

Hidden Gate Gifts also had plenty of window shoppers -- people who would look at bags and other items in the store and then just order online.

"These lines aren't sacred anymore. We used to be the only people that carried them. Now they're all online," Pettis said.

Diederich, a former certified public accountant, and Pettis, a former paralegal, bought Hidden Gate Gifts in 2009 from previous owners. The two friends did it to get away from their desk jobs, do something different and explore their creativity. They wanted to make people happy.

"We found this little gift shop and we thought it was a real treasure and we purchased it," Diederich said.

The store has a tentative closing date of May 31. All merchandise is now 30 percent off.

"We can't stop progress," Pettis said. "It's just unfortunate."

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow@sabrinarocco on Twitter.

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