Days numbered for J.C. Penney at Gulf View Square

Mug of Susan Thurston for column sig taken Tuesday, July 15, 2014.    USE THIS SIG FOR EVERYTHING..... JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
Mug of Susan Thurston for column sig taken Tuesday, July 15, 2014. USE THIS SIG FOR EVERYTHING.....JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published July 28 2014

The end looms for the JCPenney store at Gulf View Square in Port Richey.

After 24 years as a mall anchor, its last day is Saturday.

Liquidation sales began a while ago, with discounts deepening as the inventory dwindled. Last week, most items were 70 to 80 percent off, from Michael Graves wine decanters and Joe Fresh T-shirts to mannequins and furniture.

The store is one of 33 locations nationwide to get the boot. Penney CEO Mike Ullman, in announcing the closures in January, said the chain had to adjust its footprint in order to "progress toward long-term, profitable growth."

In other words, if the struggling chain has any chance of making it, the weakest have to go.

The Port Richey location was one of two affected stores in Florida. The other, at Lake Square Mall in Leesburg, closed a few months ago marking another blow to a mall that just lost a Target. Notably, both centers opened in 1980, when local malls were considered hot destinations and faced less competition.

The chain said the closings will save the company about $65 million a year. Two thousand workers lost their jobs, including about 70 at the Port Richey store. About 10 were transferred to other Penney locations.

Losing JCPenney leaves a big, but not fatal, hole for Gulf View Square, a 750,000-square-foot mall owned by Simon Property Group, which also owns the Ellenton Premium Outlets. Gulf View still has a strong anchor mix: Macy's, Dillard's, Sears, TJ Maxx and Best Buy. Before Penney's departure, the mall was almost fully occupied.

Jeff Laski, who was named the mall's manager earlier this month, said Simon is working to find a new tenant for the space, which could be divided. He didn't have a time frame, but I figure it will be a while. Not many department stores are expanding and, in this age of online sales, few retailers need that much space.

At least with one mall defeat came a victory. Ulta Beauty, a popular cosmetic, fragrance and hair salon superstore, opened in late April.

Finally, downtown Tampa has a clothing boutique.

La Sunshine Boutique has opened at 406 N Morgan St., across from Joe Chillura Courthouse Square. Granted, the store is small — only about 300 square feet — but it's a start toward adding more retail downtown.

And, even better, owner April Sims said it's doing well. A lot of customers have stumbled upon the store while walking by on their lunch break or to their car after work.

"It's too soon to say if they are coming because we are new, but so far it has been great," she said.

Sims relocated the boutique from Ybor City, where she had a much larger store at Seventh Avenue and 25th Street. Business was dreadfully slow there — she was too far east of the action — and after a few months, she decided to move.

Sims, who runs the store with her 18-year-old daughter, Jericka Henry, thought about going to a mall or shopping center but couldn't afford the rent. Instead, she found the space along Morgan Street inside Studio K, a commercial center that also has a salon and pole dancing fitness studio.

La Sunshine is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 8 p.m. Fridays for "happy hour" sales. Sims tried a few Saturdays but, without the foot traffic from office workers, couldn't justify it.

The store sells club clothing and accessories, but is transitioning to casual and work wear to better accommodate its downtown crowd that, so far, seems eager to shop.

Contact Susan Thurston at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston.