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WestShore shoppers have new store: Sears

The store relocates from Tampa Bay Center, moving into the old Dillard's, which left for International Plaza last year.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002

Manuel Caruso figures he gave Sears a good run for its money back in the day.

"We both did good business," he said of his old appliance store and its immediate neighbor.

But Tampa Radio Sales closed in 1974 after 45 years downtown on Florida Avenue, where the Sam Gibbons U. S. Courthouse now stands.

And Sears Roebuck and Co. just opened a new store at WestShore Plaza.

That's where Caruso, 84, found himself Tuesday on the department store's first day of business. He wandered in while his wife shopped elsewhere in the mall. He had nothing but praise for his former competitor.

"I've always admired them," Caruso said. "It's a beautiful store. It's well arranged. The appliance section must be three or four times what my old store was."

Store manager Vance Rea said the 175,548-square-foot Sears will be a model for other Sears stores in the region. Though not as fancy as the Dillard's it replaced, the store nonetheless boasts a glass-paneled elevator and lots of airy white space.

"Customers continue to say how open and clean it looks," said Rea.

Maple and light blue are the main accent colors.

"It's a lot brighter," agreed Joseph Meditz, who was shopping with his wife, Aniko, for evening dresses and tools. "Usually it's a little more dismal," he said, referring to this Sears' former location at Tampa Bay Center.

When Sears closed its doors there Saturday, it drove a final nail into the coffin of the long foundering mall.

Rea said he and most of the old store's employees transferred to the WestShore location. Though it has only marginally more sales floor space, 80 additional employees have been hired for "better customer service levels," he said.

Moving into Dillard's old space, which left for International Plaza last year, was a good move to Rea.

"No question about it. WestShore is a marvelous facility with the company we're keeping, all the other very respectable retailers."

The store will have its grand opening Saturday, two weeks ahead of schedule. Festivities begin at 7:30 a.m. when visitors can register to win a $1,000 Sears shopping spree.

The winner, who must be present, will be selected during the 8:45 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. The University of South Florida Army ROTC will present the colors, and the marching band from nearby Jefferson High School will perform the Star Spangled Banner.

Scheduled speakers include Mayor Dick Greco, Tonya Clark of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and Sears officials.

The first 700 customers get $10 Sears gift cards. Registrations for vacation giveaways and smaller shopping sprees will also be available.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., customers can line up for autographs from Miss Florida Katherine Carson; Paul Gruber, former offensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and Sean Kanan, who plays Deacon Sharp on the TV daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful.

Also from 1 to 4 p.m. the KidCare photo ID program will be available.

More celebrity appearances are planned for Oct. 12 and Oct. 19.

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