UNIVERSITY PARK -- It's almost a given that The Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota will be filled with shoppers in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.
With the opening of several new stores and announcement of the Disney-themed "Frozen" holiday Ice Palace coming to the mall's Grand Court, complete with a visit from Santa Claus, mall management is anticipating strong momentum going forward into the winter months in what usually is a slow shopping season.
With an estimated 125,000 seasonal residents heading to Bradenton, Sarasota and Southwest Florida to avoid a northern winter, and shoppers expected to travel from Saint Petersburg, Tampa and Fort Myers, the Mall at UTC should be buzzing, marketing and sponsorship director Kim Dominguez said Saturday.
"Our season will be different than a traditional mall season starting in January. I do believe ours will be extremely strong, and we'll have events that will encourge shoppers to visit."
Dominguez said she's also encouraged by the positive feedback she's received just 11 days after the mall opened from its 100 specialty retailers and anchor stores, Macy's, Dillard's, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
"The merchant feedback has been great. We keep our conversations open with our tenants every day and most say the mall, so far, is exceeding their expectations in sales. We've received great feedback from Apple and Tesla. Sarasota has a very large affluent market so it's not suprising."
The latest upscale specialty retailer to open this past week was Anthropologie, featuring women's clothing, acessories and home decor.
Traffic-wise, the anticipated crunch of cars and traffic jams were mitigated, Dominquez says thanks to a well-planned public safety effort from state, county and local law enforcement and mall security.
"Traffic was a big concern but we are very proud of the way it was all handled," she said.
On Saturday afternoon, the parking lot at the Mall at UTC was filled and customers arrived steadily.
"From a teenager's perspective, there aren't a lot of stores that fit me and teenagers in general. Everything is expensive. I like Yankee Candle and Bath and Body Works, but besides that, nothing really exists for the average teenager," said Sara Keisacker, 17 a Palmetto High School student.
A young mother-to-be from Sarasota, watching her 3-year-old daughter enjoy the children's play center sponsored by the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, said was hoping to find some maternity clothes. "There's no materinity-wear here, but then again, I mostly shop online."
John Cole of Venice, who installed much of the glass in the mall's storefronts as part of his job, said he was enjoying his visit as a shopper this time.
"There are some affordable stores and some high-end ones. I think it's a nice mixture of both."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.