Dillard’s spectacular new store at the Mall at University Town Center was not quite ready for prime time, but members of the press got the picture at a preview tour on Tuesday, October 7.  Dillard’s has stepped up Sarasota’s shopping experience with a two-level, 180,000-square-foot temple to beauty and fashion that rivals and, in many cases, surpasses that of their big-city stores.

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First off, the UTC branch is double the size of the Westfield Southgate Mall store it replaces.  You can lose yourself in a shoe department that store manager Phil O’Nan describes as a football field of shoes.  With 29,300 pairs in stock for men, women and children, he’s not far off.  New brands in the women’s shoe shop, already decked out with 21,000 pairs, include Frye boots, like this metallic gold leather Deborah tall western boot ($700) adorned with metal studs.

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Equally impressive is the mammoth open-plan handbag department with high-profile brand shops, among them  Michael Kors, Dooney & Bourke, Brahmin, Coach, Patricia Nash and Sarasota’s first-ever Kate Spade shop at Dillard’s.

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A stroll through the main floor cosmetics and sunglass departments calls to mind chi-chi Lane Crawford in Hong Kong or Galleries Lafayette in Paris.  The lighting, display cases and floor layout are that good.  New to the store are Viktor & Rolf fragrance brands Spicebomb for men and Flowerbomb for women. There’s a boutique in the cosmetics area called “the Edge” with a curated selection of the newest up-and-coming and most technologically advanced potions–the idea is akin to edited reportage of the best of beauty from a fashion magazine.

And Dillard’s outdoes itself with a sunglass department with coveted brands from Roberto Cavalli to Ray Ban (which is coming to UTC to create custom “rock star” videos of customers wearing their shades). A new brand for Dillard’s is Versace, represented with a striking display.  Every pair in the entire department is available to try on without having to ask a sales person to unlock a display case.  Now that’s retail entertainment.

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Another “edge” is the decidedly fashion forward look of the men’s departments, from an enormous selection of jeans brands to a new Polo for Men shop to suits by upscale Hickey Freeman (which is coming to UTC for a trunk show and custom fittings).

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Two of the departments Sarasotans love most about Dillard’s—its lingerie and evening dress departments--are just as great, but lots bigger, with lounges and elaborate dressing rooms equipped with call buttons for sales help.

More big news is a home store.  Home décor was not available at Westgate, but here there is bedding, bath fashions, tabletop, kitchen housewares and a bridal registry.  From colorful Fiesta ware to a holiday trim a tree shop, there is much more for Sarasota shoppers at Dillard’s than we’ve ever had before.

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Click here to see Carol Tisch's favorite fall shopping finds in our October issue. >>

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