A local entrepreneur thinks he has hit on a formula for success at Seminole Mall: Combine an almost empty mall and its convenient parking with a green market and entertainment in air-conditioned comfort.
The result, Scott Meehan hopes, will be a weekly event that draws shoppers from all over. The fact that it's indoors should help the venture outdraw similar events elsewhere in Pinellas during hot or rainy weather.
"I see it as a way of increasing traffic flow," Meehan said.
People would come for the fresh market, he said, and stay to wander through the mall and shops.
The mall's owners agree that the idea just might work. They've given Meehan the go-ahead to try it.
The first fresh market is scheduled for Aug. 7-8, a Saturday and Sunday. After that, Meehan wants to open Thursday through Sunday every week.
The immediate plan is to use the outside of the mall for any cooking that vendors might want to do. Although Seminole Mall has a small food court, the vacant storefronts there lack cooking equipment. Those who buy food could take it inside to eat. Entertainers could use the food court area.
Other vendors would set up in the mall corridors. This would give shoppers a leisurely stroll through the mall and pull them toward stores that remain open, Meehan said.
Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson, who is also executive director of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, praised the idea.
"I think the concept is great," Johnson said. "I think it will liven up the mall, that's for sure."
Because the concept is new, it might take some time to catch on, but Johnson thinks the market is likely to draw customers from outdoor green markets "simply because it's air conditioned."
"I think it's going to be successful," Johnson said.
Success is something Seminole Mall badly needs.
The mall, like many indoor shopping centers, has struggled in recent years. That struggle has become more apparent since mid December, when Publix moved out of the mall and across the street to the site of a former Albertsons.
Publix left behind a giant empty spot in the parking lot and swirling rumors about the mall's future.
Although city officials and residents have big dreams for the place that is their de facto downtown, no real plans seem to be in the works.
That, in part, is why Meehan, who owns an event-planning company, came up with his idea.
"People are unsure what's happening with the mall," he said, but putting on events there will help change the public's perception of it.
"It'll create more awareness," Meehan said. People will realize that "Seminole's a happening place, Seminole Mall."
For information about the Seminole Mall fresh market, e-mail Meehan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (727) 776-7261.