There’s a new face at Bradenton’s DeSoto Square mall, and that face was smiling a lot Sunday.
The face belongs to the effervescent Jodi Rice, who is only a month into her job as general manager of the mall’s JCPenney store.
Even though Rice has been with JCPenney for 25 years, this is her first time as a manager. She transferred from the Brandon JCPenney.
Rice has not only set high goals for herself and her store but she expects the mall, which has seen better days, to rise up, too.
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On Sunday, because of the final day of the three-day, back-to-school sales-tax holiday, the mall was buzzing with shoppers — and Rice was feeling it.
Cashier stands at JCPenney had long lines. People were shoulder to shoulder in Journeys, a mall shoe store.
“It warms my heart that Bradenton and DeSoto Square is getting some good traffic,” Rice said. “Much deserved. Just love to see the regular Penney customers coming in and shopping with us.”
Rice laughed when asked if she could turn the entire mall around with her dynamic personality and bring more customers to 303 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton. On many days, only a few people appear to be strolling through stores, and the food court has many gaps where merchants have pulled out.
“I would love to,” Rice said. “But, no, it will take a whole team effort. We’ve got a great mall manager who is really working hard getting some other vendors into this mall. I think we have a very loyal JCPenney customer who would love to see a little refresh to the mall. I think our customers will help build that business up for the mall.”
Rice walked through her store Sunday and greeted customers. JCPenney, like many stores in Bradenton, were also offering deep discounts along with the sales tax exemption.
JCPenney customers Chanta Bussell and her daughter, Mia Bussell, 9, bought a pink shirt for Mia for $7 that was on sale from $16. No sales tax even made it better. Mia will probably wear it Wednesday for her first day of school at Anna Maria Elementary.
“I would say this is second to Christmas,” Rice said of the volume of business JCPenney received on the tax free holiday. “Customers know that this is the place to shop for back to school. We’ve got uniforms, athletic shoes, everything kids need to get back to school.”
Another customer, Ruby Grimaldo, 8, from Ruskin got a purple Sailor Moon backpack bearing a cat’s face.
“I found it on line, and we drove here to get it for Ruby,” said Homero Grimaldo, Ruby’s grandfather.
“It’s a cat, and I like cats, and it’s also my favorite color,” Ruby said of the backpack.
A few steps from JCPenney in the mall, Melissa Roberts of Sarasota was shopping at Journeys with her two brothers, Tre’veon, 14, a Booker High School student, and Lucas, 3.
“I got Sperrys, and Tre’veon got Vans,” Roberts said.
The Sperrys were discounted from $80 to $60, and Roberts saved the sales tax as well. Her brother Tre’veon’s Vans would have been $50 each, but they were $30 each on sale.
Other stores also packed
“We’re definitely busier than normal,” Tracy Porter, store manager of the Bealls, 3905 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, said Sunday afternoon.
Bealls employees put in a lot of extra hours, with the stores staying open until 10 p.m. every night during the tax holiday, Porter said.
“This is no different than Christmas,” Porter said of the crowds and the commitment employees made to cover the hours this weekend. “We take good care of our employees.”
The sales tax holiday was different this year from last year, with only three days of savings rather than 10. Also, the state set the bar at $60 or less per item, including clothing, shoes and accessories. Shoppers could spend $100 per item last year.
Last year was great for technology buyers with computers on the sales tax exemption list, but computers were not exempted this year.
Watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas and handkerchiefs, roller skates, briefcases, luggage, wigs and fishing boots were out, but graduation gowns, lab coats, martial arts attire, raincoats, purses, caps and hats, backpacks, baby clothes and uniforms were in.
“We saw a great range of people shopping,” Porter said. “We had three generations out shopping together, grandparents with families. We saw wives and kids and a lot of men shopping as well.”
Shoe sales may have topped everything else at Bealls, Porter added.
“We sold a lot of shoes,” Porter said. “We sold all kinds of shoes and not just for kids. Flip flops, sandals, everything across the board.”
Like many of the local stores, Bealls offered discounts on merchandise to entice shoppers.
“The majority of our shoes were on sale so shoppers could get 30 to 40 percent off and then there were also coupons on top of that and the sales tax saving on top of that,” Porter said.