A flurry of restaurant openings in the second half of 2017 have appealed to customers.
Before LA Fitness and Lucky’s Gourmet Market opened at Westfield Siesta Key mall, Sarasota resident Norm Freeman had never visited the shopping center.
But with new restaurants and businesses opening recently, he’s visited frequently.
“It’s fantastic,” he said, sipping coffee outside Lucky’s. “I’ve been here for 32 years, and I’ve been waiting.”
What he’s seeing now pleases him: a shift away from traditional retail mall offerings toward places such as Lucky’s.
At the corner of U.S. 41 and Siesta Drive, the mall’s proximity to the beach has made it an appealing venue for business owners. But with the opening of the Mall at University Town Center in 2014, some tenants, such as Dillard’s, made the jump to that expanding retail center at the north end of the county.
“Obviously when you add more retail to a market, things are going to shift and change,” said Christa Kremer, a spokeswoman for Westfield Siesta Key. “Quite frankly it presented more opportunity for this center to evolve.”
That evolution is still in progress. The inclusion of a CineBistro movie theater in 2016, an LA Fitness gym earlier this year and a Lucky’s Gourmet Market on Oct. 11 have drawn customers.
The shift is what drew businesses such as casual eatery Metro Diner to the mall.
“We wanted to be a part of that,” said Mark Fenton, a managing partner of Sarasota’s first Metro Diner. “We couldn’t pass it up. We really feel that (Westfield Siesta Key) is turning a corner to something.”
Lucky’s Store Director Dave Cadwell agrees. The gourmet grocery store opened in October, and managers were drawn to the location for its demographic and emphasis on “foodies.”
“We’re pleased to be a part of it, and hopefully the mall will keep building upon it — not just with foodie shops but hopefully some other retailers will take notice and want to be a part of the mall as well,” Cadwell said.
But even as new businesses continue to open this year, many storefronts in the mall remain vacant. Kremer declined to reveal the mall’s occupancy rate, but estimates there are about 40 units in the mall. By a recent count, about 15 of those appeared vacant.
Alan McKee, another Lucky’s visitor, said he loves the new restaurants as well, but noticed it’s “kind of dead” inside.
“I’m not sure what the plan is for the inside of the mall,” he said. “It’s kind of sad.”
Despite the quiet interior, more businesses continue to open at the mall. Bravo Coastal Bar and Kitchen opened this summer. Just after Hurricane Irma, Connor’s Steak and Seafood opened its doors.
On Nov. 11, so did Naples Flatbread Kitchen and Bar.
And in the near future, a Burgerim restaurant, L’Core Paris cosmetics store and Alicia’s Dream jewelry store will be opening.
“I’m hoping that this kind of rejuvenates the mall,” McKee said of the new businesses that opened this year. “It’s a lot easier than going to UTC.