MANATEE -- Several more tenants, including Chick-Fil-A, Aeropostale and f.y.e., have vacated DeSoto Square mall, and their decision has left some current tenants and customers wondering about the property's future.
Scott Cook, owner of Zen Guitars in DeSoto Square, said he had a decent Christmas and January, but business fell off after the first month of the year. The recent closures of other mall businesses "absolutely" affect his business, he said Monday. He wishes the mall would bring in another strong anchor tenant or a restaurant, even if that means leasing space for next to nothing.
"I'm doing better business online and at festivals," Cook said, who has been in DeSoto Square for about eight months. "A restaurant would bring people in here. You can't order online from a restaurant."
JC Penney and Hudson's Furniture are two anchors at DeSoto Square. Vincent Joy, JC Penney store manager, said traffic has been good and he's proud of the Founder's Award given to his store last week. The award is given to stores that meet or exceed performance goals.
Hudson's Furniture management could not be reached on Monday.
Sears, DeSoto Square's third anchor tenant, has also noticed the drop in foot traffic.
"We do see that the mall foot traffic has decreased drastically," said Sears store manager Julie Bursic.
Bursic surmised the vacancies in the food court and the mall's geographic location as possible reasons for the low foot traffic.Sears is an exclusive holder of Kenmore appliances and Craftsmen tools, Bursic said, which attracts a cohort of "niche clients."
The nearby Sears Auto Center helps the chain maintain its business in Bradenton as well.
"But would I be foolhardy to say lack of foot traffic doesn't impact all stores in mall? Yes," Bursic said.
Though Cook said he feels the mall's security has improved, the foot traffic still leaves much to be desired.
"I think Bradenton needs a mall, but malls are struggling everywhere," he said. Cook hopes the new management will "think outside the box" and bring in "things you wouldn't typically see in a mall." He mentioned Sarasota's Westfield Southgate mall as an example and likes the idea of bringing in fresh concepts like CineBistro and art galleries.
DeSoto Square does have a movie theater, Colonial Cinemas, but it is currently closed for renovations, according to a voicemail message from the theater management. The message said the theater will reopen "soon."
DeSoto Square is still owned by New York-based Namdar Realty Group, a subsidiary of Mason Asset Management, but the mall management has changed. Sondra Anderson arrived to take over as mall manager about three months ago. Anderson said she is unable to comment on recent closures or future plans for the mall. She deferred to Namdar, which could not be reached for comment Monday.
Wadai Abraham, who owns multiple stores in the mall, said his businesses are mostly "customer-based," but he doesn't get a lot of foot traffic otherwise.
"There's not a lot of corporate stores here," Abraham said, citing it as the reason for low foot traffic. "But I've been here for so long I've built my clientele up."
Abraham said he, too, is affected when other retailers leave DeSoto Square.
"Any open store is better than a closed store," he said.
Shoppers who frequent the mall are also curious about why they've seen as many closures as they have recently. More than a dozen of the mall's spaces are currently vacant, including three in the food court.
Luretha Averett lives near DeSoto Square and said she likes to shop there for her 12-year-old granddaughter. She wishes the mall still had Macy's and suggested adding an Apple store to DeSoto Square's tenant lineup. Driving to The Mall at University Town Center is too much of a haul for Averett to do often.
"And it's so crowded up there with all of the traffic," Averett said.
The Robinson family, who also live near DeSoto Square, was left wondering what happened when Chick-Fil-A left the mall.
"We were here about a month ago and now there's like nothing," said Charly Robinson, mother of three who often visited DeSoto Square's food court because her kids enjoyed Chick-Fil-A. Though Robinson and her husband have driven to the Mall at UTC for shopping needs, the traffic and atmosphere deter them, too.
"It seems to cater to rich people," Charly Robinson said. "And I don't like to go in there." Because DeSoto Square has Hot Topic, one of her favorite stores, Robinson said she'd be "devastated" if the mall closed. She does wish the mall would bring in The Children's Place or a Gymboree. Her husband just wishes the food options would return.
"Bring our food back," Michael Robinson said.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.