Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Despite defections, Gulf View Square tenants, manager see hope for mall

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PORT RICHEY

At 3:45 on a recent weekday afternoon, a walk through Gulf View Square mall was mostly quiet.

"To put it in perspective, I went to Countryside (mall in Clearwater)," said Steve Baginskie, who owns Yancy Street Comics, a comic shop at Gulf View Square. "They were as busy on a Monday as this mall is on a Saturday."

But despite smaller crowds and recent defections of stores, Baginskie and other Gulf View tenants say all is not lost. And they still have hope for the 36-year-old mall's future.

Yancy Street Comics has been at Gulf View Square for six years, Baginskie said.

"You can tell on the weekends that traffic is way down from when we originally moved into the mall," he said.

He suspects the decline in foot traffic is due in part to the departures of two department stores that had been anchors at Gulf View: JCPenney in the summer of 2014 and Macy's in the spring of 2015.

"When Macy's left, I thought it would put a little bit of a damper on the holidays," Baginskie said. "It did not. We actually had our best Christmas ever."

The owner of Wilma, a candle and soap shop that opened at the mall in November 2014, had a similar experience.

"We thought Penney's closing was going to be terrible," said Brenda Kennedy, who runs Wilma with its owner, her daughter, Wendy Zak.

"One would think (the JCPenney closure) would very directly affect us because it was right next to our store," Zak said. But "now that they've been gone for close to a year and a half, our sales have still been ticking up."

The store thrived during the 2015 holiday shopping season, Kennedy said. "We had the best December yet."

But not all of the mall's tenants found the 2015 holiday shopping season to be bountiful.

"(Sales) did pick up at Christmastime, but it wasn't good enough," said Carol Merritt, who owns a shop called Pyrate Isle Hot Sauces.

Oscar Rodriguez, the mall's manager since last April, could not provide numbers, but said sales across the mall during the holiday season were comparable with the national average.

Rodriguez said the mall's vacancy rate is "very low" — a handful out of a hundred spaces. He also said he does not believe that Gulf View Square has been negatively affected by Tampa Premium Outlets, the outlet mall that opened last fall in Wesley Chapel.

"We have a lot of potential," Rodriguez said. "There's always a possibility (for sales) to be better."

That's one of his goals for the mall, he said.

"When the mall was built (in 1980), it was based on the demographics at that time," Rodriguez said. "The demographic has changed. Now, we have a lot of younger families, more kids, a lot of teens. We need more children's stores, or entertainment for the teenagers — something that will keep them here."

JCPenney, he said, has been replaced by World of Decor, which opens two weekends each month to auction antiques and furniture from "all over the world." The space that Macy's once occupied remains vacant, but a replacement, he said, "is in the pipeline."

Another of his goals is for the mall to host more free events that promote the good of the community, such as a job fair and a monthly 5K race on mall property.

And there won't be a catch, Rodriguez said.

"At the end of the day, if (participants) need to do some shopping, that's at their will," he said.

Zak said there is good reason to shop at Gulf View Square.

"It's not just big-box chains that are here," she said. "There are smaller, locally owned businesses."

Baginskie remains hopeful that traffic will bounce back.

"There's always hope," he said.

Contact Arleen Spenceley at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected] Follow @ArleenSpenceley.

 
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