WESLEY CHAPEL — Ready or not, the first new full-line department stores to open in the Tampa Bay area since 2001 debut this week at ground zero of the region's stalled new housing boom.
Dillard's and Macy's won't wait for the Shops at Wiregrass grand opening Oct. 30. Both stage their own grand openings Saturday at the region's first big new Main Street lifestyle shopping center just east of Interstate 75 on State Route 56 at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
To break in the staff, Dillard's soft opening begins today. Macy's follows on Thursday.
Forest City Development Corp. cut deals for the stores five years ago when east Pasco County's torrid parade of instant subdivisions seemed to have no end. Even though the housing market went south and took the economy along for the ride, department store executives remain confident there's enough affluence and population to support the new stores.
But privately they fret over how many residents have the jobs and financial security to provide the stores with expected combined first-year sales of up to $60-million.
There was no shortage of job seekers. Dillard's drew 2,500 applications, interviewed 1,500 prospects and hired 180. Macy's had similar numbers to fill 150 jobs.
This weekend the stores will pull out the giveaways and promotions to get shoppers in the mood. Celebs are coming: Oleg Casinni dress designer Georgio Infantidis at Dillard's on Saturday and What Not to Wear TV star Clinton Kelley at Macy's on Sunday.
Both stores brim with each chain's latest store design theory. They represent slightly smaller prototypes designed to fit the new type of outdoor lifestyle shopping centers developers use to replace the bigger, enclosed mall. But the changes are more subtle than Dillard's choice of a marble floor and Macy's opting for polished, white porcelain stone.
In their zeal to make shoppers think they can get in and out just as fast as any discount store, both embraced an unembellished, wide-open look. There's parking garage access to make the walk inside shorter. Macy's sports a covered walk to the door.
"Shoppers, especially teens, know exactly what they came for and want to get in and out fast," said Kathy Appleton, who is managing her 14th Dillard's. "Today we're all about less is more and not being cluttered."
Indeed, Dillard's designers Tuesday yanked several fake potted palms Tuesday from atop the cosmetic counter as violating the theme. And Macy's banished those shiny, white palm tree columns as a throwback to the days when it was Burdines.
"What makes this store so different than our mall stores is how we've made it so easy to shop," said Frank Molfetto, vice president of store planning for Macy's Florida. "Everything is kept right in your line of sight. We really don't need directional signs."
Wide, open aisles, plush fitting rooms and edited (as opposed to dense-packed) selections have been the trend for five years. But Macy's continues to fine-tune.
The directional store maps and price-check kiosks now light up to stand out even more. Comfy fitting room furniture grew to seating for groups for female pals to try things on and ask friends' opinions.
To save shoppers' time, Macy's fragrance department for the first time is organized by lifestyle, not brand. Inspired by cosmetics chain Sephora, fragrances are grouped in categories from traditional to trendy.
Other new sights:
• The interior lighting level inside Dillard's is twice as bright thanks to LED lighting.
• One of the first FAO Schwarz toy shops inside a Macy's includes a colorful layout that's headed for all local Macy's by the holidays.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.