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Luxury shopping, dining pop-up heads to UTC

The mall concept, which executive Whitman Lazenby says is like a "retail carnival," brings several notable brands to Sarasota.

The Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up Tour debuted late last year in North Carolina.
The Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up Tour debuted late last year in North Carolina.
Courtesy image
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Bal Harbour Shops, the No. 1 luxury shopping center in the world in sales and a nationally known brand in luxury retail, is coming to Sarasota. 

A tony brand Mecca with $2,555 in sales per square foot, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, Bal Harbour Shops is bringing its Access Pop-up Tour to The Mall at University Town Center this month. Whitman Family Development, which owns Bal Harbor Shops, announced the forthcoming pop-up event in a media announcement this week, followed by a social media campaign.

“The west coast of Florida is a fantastic market for us,” Whitman Family Development President and CEO Matthew Whitman Lazenby, said, specifically noting the Sarasota-Lakewood Ranch market’s combination of high net worth residents and deep-pocketed seasonal tourists. “This is a great time of year for us to be here.”

Retailers have been hosting pop-ups in and around stores for years, selling everything from makeup to microwave ovens, usually around Christmas. But the Bal Harbour Access Pop-up Tour is a rather unique offering: It consists of 30 individually designed, customized shipping containers, with a list of brands that include Tiffany & Co., Balmain, Etro, Gianvito Rossi, Addict and Santa Maria Novella.

The pop-up operation, spanning 17,000 square feet, also includes covered walkways with fans, a retractable canopy and The Whitman, a fine dining restaurant seating 150. (The restaurant and bar menus for The Whitman will be custom-made for the Sarasota stop.)

The Whitman, a fine dining restaurant, will seat 150.
Courtesy image

An official grand opening is scheduled for March 8, and a Whitman Development spokesperson said it will remain open through April. The UTC Mall and its multiple other connected restaurant and retail districts straddle the Manatee-Sarasota County line, just west of the University Parkway exit of Interstate 75. 

The area has been a hotbed of retail and restaurants recently: new and coming-soon brands include Trader Joe's, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and an Anna Maria Oyster Bar location. A Tesla dealership outside the mall is under construction. 

The pop-up tour of stores, Whitman Lazenby said, is more like a “retail carnival” than a standard pop-up event. The Sarasota-east Manatee County market is the second stop on the four-stop Access Pop-up Tour. It debuted in Raleigh, North Carolina last December and went through January. Stops after Sarasota include Walton County in the Panhandle and Greenville, South Carolina. Each stop lasts about two months.

“We are excited to be bringing Bal Harbour to customers and markets that might not be familiar with it,” Whitman Lazenby said. "This is a really unique high-end shopping experience.” 

The Access Pop-up Tour is also stopping in the Florida Panhandle.
Courtesy image

The idea for such an extensive experiential retail pop-up tour, Whitman Lazenby said, dates back to the pandemic. The Whitman Development team had planned to open a smaller version of today’s pop-up tour in the Florida Keys. But due to a number of issues, that plan fizzled. 

“It didn’t work,” Whitman Lazenby said. “It never opened.” 

But the idea, Whitman Development executives believed, had merit. So the company kept at it, adding to it and enhancing it. The current version chose its four markets by looking for places with underserved luxury offerings and higher than average ultra-high-net-worth families and individuals. The Tampa and Naples markets, with International Plaza and Waterside Shops, respectively, have “access to luxury,” Whitman Lazenby said. “Sarasota less so.” 

After finding the locations, the next step was planning and logistics. In Sarasota, Whitman Development is partnering with UTC landlord Benderson Development, which Whitman Lazenby said has been a big help. In North Carolina, explaining the concept to Raleigh city officials for permits and other approvals was a challenge. “They said ‘you want to do what?’ recalls Whitman Lazenby with a chuckle. 

Another challenge? Getting the show road-ready. Participating pop-up stores are sending boxes and cases of merchandise, which has to be accounted for and displayed properly. In some cases, the brands send their own employees to staff the pop-ups, and in others Whitman Family Development staffs them, Whitman Lazenby said. In all cases, attention to detail is key. “This is a personal touch, high-touch experience,” he said. 

This article originally appeared on sister site



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.