SARASOTA -- One Westfield Southgate anchor set a closing date while two others remain up in the air as Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard's and Macy's are all preparing to open new, larger stores inside the Mall at University Town Center.
Employees at Dillard's are telling shoppers they expect the Southgate location to close or become a Dillard's Clearance Center after receiving no new merchandise for the fall season and no shipments for months. One department adjacent to swimwear is filled with empty fixtures and blocked off with caution tape, but most shopping racks appear full.
One sign it could become a clearance center is all store items marked for sale -- many up to 65 percent off -- are hand-tagged. Stores don't usually mark every single item with new prices for a weekend sale.
In August, Dillard's announced its Orlando Fashion Square mall location was to become a clearance store, closing off its second floor, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Dillard's also operates clearance stores at University Square in Tampa, Regency Square in Jacksonville and Boynton Beach Mall.
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Decisions to turn stores into clearance centers is made on a case-by-case basis, Dillard's spokeswoman Julie Bull said.
"We have not made that determination in Sarasota," she said.
Bull also said the company would not confirm reports of the store closing.
Store manager Phillip Nolan said he could not comment as the Little Rock, Ark., corporate headquarters has not made an annoucement about the future of the Southgate store, but he did acknowledge the store hasn't been receiving newer items for a while.
The new Dillard's will be a two-level 180,000-square-foot store while the Southgate store is a one-level, 97,000-square-foot store.
It will be the first new Dillard's since 2010. Dillard's closed six locations in 2013, ranging in size from 64,000 to 195,000 square feet.
Saks Fifth Avenue has long said it would close its 40,000-square-foot Westfield store, but now there is a time and date: 6 p.m. Oct. 8.
"We will not have a moving markdown sale," said Sally Schule, marketing director for the Sarasota Saks, which will have an 80,000-square-foot store in the new mall. "All merchandise will move to the new location or be sent to one of our other locations."
All staff will be offered a transfer to the new location, she said, and hiring is expected to increase staff by 35 percent, she said.
The departure of two anchors would leave Macy's as the sole anchor at the Westfield mall. Macy's announced in July it would close its DeSoto Square store in Bradenton by late September/early October, transferring employees to the new department store at the Mall at UTC. A moving sale is ongoing at the Bradenton location, and nothing has been announced for either the Macy's locations at Southgate and Westfield Sarasota Square mall.
"It's business as usual at both of these Macy's locations," Macy's spokeswoman Melissa Goff said.
The Australia-based Westfield in May revealed models of its plan in Las Vegas to renovate the mall into an outdoor center and rename it Westfield Siesta Key in anticipation of its departing anchors and other stores.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.