WESLEY CHAPEL — I hate malls. I hate the traffic and the parking and the wandering through the corridors in a daze, feeling closed in and overwhelmed and depressed. I hadn't been to an actual mall in years and had never planned on going to another one. Heck, even Target freaks me out — too many people, too many screaming kids — and I'll leave my cart where it is and sprint for the door so that I can breathe.
That's probably not healthy.
But that's the way it is, for me.
So when my editor asked me to go check out the new mall in Wesley Chapel, I said yes, of course, but I dreaded it. I had read the stories about the Shops at Wiregrass, but I hadn't thought much of it, as I'm not a shopper and I'm continually broke. I didn't understand why people were so excited about it. I don't live in that world.
But when I got there Thursday afternoon, I was surprised.
It was lovely. Really.
Sure, the parking lot was packed, but there are small lots surrounding the shopping area, so you don't get that feeling of fighting for a parking spot that's in another time zone.
I love the open-air, meandering feeling of walking outside, looking at the storefronts.
"This is like when we were kids, back on Main Street," said Don Powers, who was there from New Port Richey with his wife, Lorna. He had shocked her that morning by asking something she had never thought she would hear: "Want to go shopping?"
Lorna had stopped cold. She does all of his shopping — his clothes, underwear, deodorant. They are in their 70s, and unless it's a Home Depot, Don isn't interested in stores.
"What?" she asked.
"That new mall over in Wesley Chapel," her husband said. "We should check it out."
"Okay," she said quickly, and she grabbed her coupons for Bath & Body Works and put on her tennis shoes. Don had read about the Shops at Wiregrass in the paper and was curious about its design. Lorna dived into Bath & Body Works — ecstatic about the discounts and her coupons. She got a heavy bag of 10 items for about $5.
"Can you believe that?" she said, beaming. "Five dollars!"
While she was in there, Don sat outside in a wooden rocking chair and chatted with other guys. Those chairs seem to be put there for women to dump off their shopping bags and men.
"It reminds me of back home, long ago," he said.
Even though it was the middle of a workday, the place was packed Thursday — the day of its official grand opening, though some stores had opened earlier.
In Dillard's, I asked a woman at the Lancome counter where the restroom was. A few minutes later, I somehow found myself in a seat getting a makeover.
These ladies are good.
"I'm using a cream cleanser on your face," said May Rodriguez, 37, the aesthetician working on me. She's a single mom who lives in New Tampa and had been driving to Brandon for work. But now, with the new store, her commute is a few minutes.
"Last week, I put $40 in my gas tank," she said. "And I still have gas!"
Kathy Appleby, the store manager of Dillard's, swooped by to say hello. She's been getting to the office at 7 a.m. and leaving after 8:30 p.m. and is running on bubbly adrenaline.
"I thought this was more of a stroller community," she said of the customers and how she has been surprised at the variety — young and retired, middle class. She said sales have been good.
"We're so excited," she said.
Back outside, with rosy lip gloss and some kind of eye shadow called Kitten Heel, I wandered more and saw a group of teenagers walking fast in a pack. The blond girl in the lead, dressed in that cool, sloppy way some people can pull off well, looked at a Coach store and said, "Where has this mall been all of my life?"
And then she scurried across the street and ran toward Express with her arms open wide.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.