UNIVERSITY PARK -- Before all of the official fanfare set for Oct. 16, Dillard's will open quietly offering customers a sneak peek at what's to come.
During a tour of the two-level Dillard's on Tuesday, store officials announced the soft opening with limited hours -- likely 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
In every corner, Dillard's is adding amenities never seen before in its Sarasota market stores. And if the merchandise isn't enough to draw people in, fashion designers and interactive events will entice shoppers.
This is the second Dillard's to open in the United States since 2010; a Las Vegas Dillard's just opened this week.
"We're so excited to present this bigger, expanded version of Dillard's here in Sarasota," store manager Phil O'Nan said.
The store is bright with LED lighting, helping the beige porcelain tile shine. There are lounges to take a break from the madness and
plenty of places to roam.
"Everything within the store is very open and inviting," said Dawn Zachman, special events director for Dillard's East Division. "We want customers to come spend the day. We have little places all over where they can relax a little bit. It's just a cool, inviting store that we hope they want to visit often."
After the grand opening, Dillard's, 200 University Town Center Drive, will officially be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
At nearly double the size of its Southgate store closing this week, the 180,000-square-foot Dillard's will offer new brands, departments and features for the Sarasota-Bradenton market.
On the second floor, Dillard's has a home store with bedding, flatware, China, bath products and, because it's that time of year, 12 themes of Christmas trees. The home department also bolsters the wedding registry service, I Thee Wed. The store gives newlyweds a 20 percent discount on registry items not purchased as gifts before the big day, Zachman said.
Across the way on the upper level, Tommy Bahama women's line and Polo Ralph Lauren for women, a sister brand to the Polo for men, will be offered.
"It's one step above what we traditionally had," Zachman said.
A Ralph Lauren representative on the tour said the Polo women's brand is more elegant than the Lauren Ralph Lauren label and is a combination of the discontinued Rugby and Blue labels.
The men's department will see additions including Michael Kors for men, expanded Hugo Boss and Daniel Cremieux lines.
Down on the first floor in the lingerie department, brands such as Be Tempted, DKNY and Natori are available and a bra fitting program is available.
"We want to make sure to educate our women from the foundation out that they're wearing the right garment under the clothes because it makes them look better and feel better," said Dillard's apparel coordinator Sandra Palacio, who said eight out of 10 women wear the wrong bra size.
Employees in the bra-fitting program go through a three- to six-month certification process, before they can provide custom measurements and take women into the private fitting rooms to be fitted in a bra.
"It's actually better if we fit a customer in the bra, to determine not only her size but to determine if she's shallow, average or full," Palacio said. "We can eliminate the whole floor -- which is a little overwhelming -- down to four or five bras based off her needs and her lifestyle."
Dillard's is also offering "open sale" concept areas for sunglasses and cosmetics. O'Nan noted customers can open a case and try on some shades without asking for employee assistance.
An open cosmetics design doesn't separate employees and customers. Clinique will have its concept "play station" that features iPads to help match skin tones with certain lines, O'Nan said. The Clinique information can be emailed from the iPad to the customer for future reference.
"We want our customers to play and engage and touch the product, but still give that lovely service you expect at Dillard's," O'Nan said.
Customers will be hard pressed not to find a shoe in their style or size. The new Dillard's has stocked 21,000 women's shoes. In all, the shoe inventory is about triple of what is carried at Southgate.
"The shoe department is huge," O'Nan said. "It's almost a football field worth of shoes."
Among the brands are Frye Boots, as Jeanne Hutson "shoe guru" for Dillard's showed off handmade, handstitched $700 pair of leather boots from the Spanish company.
"It is going to be the hot item, especially the metallic color," said Hutson, who is officially Dillard's divisional shoe salesperson and training manager.
Hutson also offered her take on what customers can expect on the shoe racks.
"The trends are going to be Western," Huston said. "Whether it's boots, shoes or booties. Grey is going to be really big."
The UTC store will be only one of 43 Dillard's in the country to showcase James Avery jewelry as part of a companywide partnership starting in mid-October. The family-run jeweler out of Kerrville, Texas, will have its men's and women's jewelry showcased inside Dillard's stores in only 15 states.
Shoppers might want to bring an energy bar to make it through dozens of events.
In the sunglass department, Ray-Ban will have a feature during the first week encouraging customers to try on a pair of Ray-Bans and shoot a video to send to their friends.
At least two dozen personal appearances are scheduled through the rest of the month as part of fashion shows on the second floor.
Oct. 16 will feature Alexandra Dillard, granddaughter of Dillard's founder William T. Dillard, who is the company's corporate merchandise manager. Dillard will host a career fashion show at 11 a.m.
TV personality Mickey Williams of Tampa will be on hand representing Lancome from noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 17 with beauty and trend advice. As part of the promotion, for every Lancome Genifique sold during October, Dillard's is donating $7 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Zachman said.
For men, Hickey Freeman will host a trunk show from 3 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 and will custom-fit suits, Zachman said.
Dressmaker Betsey Johnson will make a personal appearance from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 25, O'Nan said. The designer was a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars" this season before being eliminated this week.
Venice's own Tervis will have a create-a-tumbler station on the second floor starting on the sold-out charity night, Oct. 15 through Oct. 19.
"You can come in, pick a decal and put your cup in a Fun Fuser, and you will create your own Tervis," Zachman said. "It will have a lovely sticker on the bottom of it within the cup that says 'this one is made by me.'"
All of that is on top of $25,000 in prizes to be given away Oct. 16, a $1,000 shopping spree Oct. 17 and another $5,500 in prizes on Oct. 18.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.