Mall at UTC

Crate & Barrel at Mall at UTC: Touch our stuff, it's not a museum

UNIVERSITY PARK -- A few months ago, Priscilla Nance would have been pleased to hear the Crate & Barrel store she managed in Tampa was drawing customers from Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota.

This week, that is no longer strictly the case. Nance, who is opening the newest store for the housewares and furniture seller in The Mall at University Town Center, is all in for the company's University Park location. She's not only traded her job as general manager for the Tampa store for the general manager spot at the Mall at UTC, she's now a Lakewood Ranch resident as well.

Talk about having the right person to talk to about furnishing a new home.

"We expect to have a very busy store," said Nance, whose staff was still fussing with product displays Wednesday, just hours ahead of the grand opening at the mall. The event is expected to bring everyone from newlyweds to snowbirds into the 18,000-square-foot, two-story Crate & Barrel. "A lot of the customers we expect have shopped in Tampa."

It couldn't be a better time for the store to open. A big seller of seasonal home items, Crate & Barrel has filled its new location with three holidays worth of themed dishes, linens and decorative pieces.

Shoppers familiar with the retailer will still find their favorite wine glasses, kitchen gadgets and clean-lined furniture throughout, though it may take them a little while to orient themselves to the look of the store. It is the first of Crate & Barrel's 85 stores nationwide to display its wares on display cases, shelves and tables made of dark materials, a big change for a company know for clean whites and blonde wood accents.

The result is a store with an updated feel Nance said she hopes shoppers will embrace. Carefully, of course, since Crate & Barrel's trademark displays of high-stacked stemware and dishes are at every turn.

"It's not a museum," she said. "We want people to grab it off the shelf and put it in a basket."

Founded in Chicago in 1962 by newlyweds Gordon and Carole Segal, the company sources its wares from around the world, from Portuguese ceramics and Polish glass to linens from the Europe. The products should draw a loyal following of repeat customers and people who have never been inside a Crate & Barrel, predicts Vicki Lang, a spokeswoman for the company who worked directly for the Segals.

Brand recognition, based on the company's splashy catalogs and its almost universally known black-and-white bags and gift boxes, is one of the company's most valuable assets when it come to drawing customers, said Lang, who is at the Mall at UTC for the opening.

"Our goal is to provide a seamless shopping experience for our customers," Lang said. "They come into our stores and want to see and touch and feel our products for themselves."

The brand has long had a cache in northern states, and Nance expects many of her store's customers will be Midwesterners who have relocated to the Bradenton-Sarasota area. Gift and bridal registry business is also expected to be brisk -- a growth area for the company over the past few years, Nance said.

Lang and Nance said they expect shoppers with a wide range of budgets, from newlyweds who pick up a six pack of hors d'oeuvres plates on clearance for about $10, to a decor-savvy homeowner who needs a custom-upholstered chair or a $1,900 sideboard.

The new store employs more than 40 workers, just five of whom transferred in from other locations. Most are seasonal employees; only 15 are full time. Staff began stocking the store last week.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.