A tiny Bealls that carries women's wear and gifts in Madeira Shopping Center closes next month, giving way to the thriving chain's focus on larger stores.
It's small for a Bealls — just 15,000 square feet in a chain that favors 25,000-square-foot spaces — but leaves a hole for Madeira Beach, especially for condo-dwellers near Tom Stuart Causeway who walk to the busy complex anchored by Publix and Walgreens.
"It breaks my heart to hear they're leaving," said Mayor Pat Shontz, 78.
After Bealls for Her and a Hallmark store next door are gone, the five-store center will have just Publix, Walgreens and home decor and gift gallery Sign of the Dolphin. While the Bealls has been there merely 15 years ("forever" in modern Bealls lingo), it follows a tradition of clothing and department stores in the complex, which opened to traffic-stopping crowds in 1957.
Shontz, who moved to Madeira Beach in 1962, remembers the Publix complex with a dozen smaller tenants, from Harrell's Garden Center to Rutland's Department Store. There was a laundromat, a shoe store, a barber and a bakery.
In other words, as John's Pass turned itself into a tourist attraction with its boardwalk and trinkets, Madeira Shopping Center was the spot for folks who lived there. The city, which existed a decade before the shopping center opened, encompasses a square mile of land. But shoppers show loyalty, Shontz said, even as new stores have sprouted within a short drive.
On weekday afternoons, students swarm across the footbridge from Madeira Beach Fundamental School to their parents in the shopping center parking lot.
Tom Meredith, vice president of retail leasing for Ram Realty Services, says he sees opportunity in the vacancies. Publix or Sign of the Dolphin might expand into adjacent space. But the 80,167-square-foot complex will need an additional tenant, he said. And remodeling for another retailer could mean no store opening for six months or more.
"It's obviously a loss for the community," he said. "We're going to try to get them a replacement tenant that's vibrant, and hopefully eases the loss of the Bealls store."
Bealls, which runs 85 department stores and 445 outlet stores from its headquarters in Bradenton, has no plans for a new store in Madeira Beach, according to Bill Webster, director of public and government affairs.
On a sunny spring day, Diane Campbell, 66, and Joan Taylor, 65, meander with bulging Bealls bags toward the Walgreens. The Toronto snowbirds — Campbell's on her eighth winter here — walk to the complex all the time.
They love the bright, well-organized store. The people are so nice, they say. They shop for shoes, sandals, shorts — summer clothes you can buy in Florida before they're available in Canada. Campbell even checked for a Bealls up North that she might drive to. No luck. So she visits "all the Bealls," she says, when she's here for the winter.
Now she'll drive to Seminole. She has one wish for the complex: more clothes.
"We don't need more tourist shops," she said.
Clearance sales have already started. Signs advertise 25 percent off through the entire store. Its last day is April 24.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Becky Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.