MANATEE -- Macy's will be leaving the DeSoto Square mall in favor of its new store, set to open in October at the Mall at University Town Center.
Employees at the Bradenton store were informed of the closure Thursday morning, just hours before the DeSoto Square mall auction ended.
Macy's is opening a 160,000-square-foot store to anchor the Mall at UTC. The 132,208-square-foot DeSoto Square store is the Bradenton mall's largest anchor.
There are 131 Macy's employees at DeSoto, and about 175 people are being hired at UTC, company officials said Thursday.
"Each one of our associates at the DeSoto Square will be considered for positions at UTC and other Macy's locations," said Melissa Goff, a spokeswoman for Macy's.
Associates who do not want to relocate will be provided with a severance package and other benefits, Goff said.
A final clearance sale will begin Monday at Macy's, and the store's final day will depend on the sale's progress, Goff said.
"We're anticipating to run until late September," she said.
Despite the closure, Macy's was performing well at DeSoto, seeing increased sales at the mall from 2011 through this year.
The DeSoto Square mall auction ended Thursday with a $33.75 million bid. Mason Asset Management is trying to unload the mall, but it remains to be seen if a deal would be completed. Mason Asset can accept or reject the offer, decline a sale or agree to a deal with another buyer.
John Russo, who operates Saturn 5 Family Entertainment Center, has been a part of DeSoto Square for eight years and aims to open a Gameroom Superstore Sept.
1 near Macy's. He said he was more shocked to hear Macy's is leaving than by the winning multimillion-dollar bid.
He said he is a firm believer Costco could do wonders for the mall, especially as Macy's leaves.
"My hope is we can lure somebody like a Costco like Sarasota mall did, much to that same template," Russo said. "We don't have a Costco in Manatee County, and Sarasota mall is quite south in Sarasota County."
Some retail analysts have shown Costco shoppers don't mix into the in-line mall traffic as much as some would hope, mainly because they're on a grocery run. That doesn't phase Russo.
"People around the property are what we're looking for," Russo said. "We're looking for human beings to occupy our real estate and define it from there."
The Macy's space could be subdivided and turned into several smaller shops, Russo said, but he doesn't want an entire mall redevelopment project tied to it. He said he fears a large project would hurt both of his businesses there.
The loss of an anchor tenant in a market that is pitting an older retail property against a new one is not a surprising outcome, according to the Florida Retail Federation.
The formula applies to big retailers and small, said John Fleming, communications director for the Tallahassee-based retail industry advocacy organization.
"In the retail industry as a whole, there is a strong preference for new commercial space," he said. "Retailers like new fresh space because it's more appealing to the customer."
In the life cycle of a mall, once the anchor tenants leave or turn over, other tenants often follow suit. Fleming said owners of older malls that lose tenants to newer retail space have a choice to make: Renovate to appeal to a new set of tenants, or tear down part or all of the property to make room for a new business use.
DeSoto Square mall general manager Richard Bedford declined to comment for this story.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.
-- Business reporter Matt Johnson contributed to this report.