My wife Liz and I have enjoyed a lot of great lunches and dinners at Connor’s Steakhouse lately and going to Cinebistro at the newly remodeled Westfield Siesta Key Mall. Looking back at growing up in Sarasota, I continue to be amazed at the evolution of shopping in my hometown. When I was a kid, there were no malls. We had lots of mom and pop stores and small strip centers and a few of the big name stores like Woolworth's and Winn Dixie. The shopping center Liz and I remember the most is Southgate Plaza, now the Westfield Siesta Key Mall on the corner of Siesta Drive and 41.
The original Southgate shopping center opened in 1956 as a strip mall and included two supermarkets - Publix and Winn Dixie, along with a W. T. Grant and Woolworth’s, Rexall Drugs, a hardware store and a few other small stores. Liz grew up in Southgate and went to Brookside Jr. High School, which was just behind the shopping center and remembers sneaking into the bowling alley that was located there after school with her friends to play pinball. This was a no-no. J. C. Penney was added as part of an expansion in 1961, along with a Kwik Chek grocery store.
W. T. Grant closed its store in 1976, which was then sold to Burdine's. A J. W. Robinson's department store replaced the former J. C. Penney in 1978, after J. C. Penney moved to Sarasota Square Mall, now Westfield Sarasota Square. The Southgate Shopping Center was enclosed in 1988. In 1994, Publix moved to a larger store across the street. The old Publix building became Saks Fifth Avenue in 1996. Following the opening of Saks, the mall was renovated to include more upscale stores such as Williams-Sonoma, and Ann Taylor.
Whew...so many changes! And it wasn’t over yet. Westfield Group bought the mall in 2002, renaming it Westfield Shoppingtown Southgate. Burdine's became Macy's in 2005 and he "Shoppingtown" was dropped on June 2005. On June 1, 2017 the mall was renamed to Westfield Siesta Key. Dillard's closed their doors at Southgate soon after, consolidating into their newer University Town Center. In late 2014, Cobb Theatres announced it would take over the Saks space for a "Cinebistro". Saks eventually moved to The Mall at University Town Center. Also, there is Connor's Steak and Seafood, Bravo Coastal Bar and Kitchen, along with Metro Diner and Luckey’s Market and LA Fitness and more!
Our simple little Southgate Shopping Center is nothing like we remember, but it’s still fun to go there and we will always have our happy memories of going to Woolworth's!
Sources and Credits: Wikpedia, The Mall Hall of Fame, Sarasota Herald Tribune