News of Dillard's either closing or becoming an outlet store at Fiesta Mall has longtime customers buzzing.
"I was just at a luncheon with 12 gals and we were all saying we're going to miss it," said Bev Johnson, a Mesa retiree who was bargain-hunting at the store last week. "We lived in Tempe for 30 years and have been coming here for as long as it's been open. They always have good deals."
Heide Domzalski lives near Chandler Fashion Center, but prefers shopping at the Fiesta Mall Dillard's.
"I've been coming to this store for 20 years," she said. "I come here because they have great sales, so an outlet store would be good. (However) I like the store the way it is now because it's not all picked over. It just depends on how they did an outlet."
All merchandise already has been marked down for quick sale. Jim Benson, Dillard's Western region director of sales and promotions, said the chain continues to evaluate its options for the store.
"We have not made any decisions, and I don't expect that we will make any kind of formal announcements until the end of this month, even at that," he said. "I think after a period of time ... they'll make a decision as to what they'll do."
The chain is closely monitoring sales because all items were put on clearance, Benson said.
"I think it's kind of a wait-and-see with them," he said. "We're hoping sometime soon we get some kind of closure one way or another."
The idea of the store becoming a clearance center is popular among customers. Dillard's already has one outlet store in the Valley, at Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix.
Lura Vermilya, who lives in east Mesa, hopes Dillard's decides to make the store a clearance center. The outlet store "is an excellent idea," she said.
"There used to be one way, way out in the West Valley," she said. "I had a friend who bought a formal there for $10. She went there with a friend who was getting married to look at wedding dresses and she found a full-length gown for $10. That was about 10 years ago, but still, that's a screaming deal."
Losing Dillard's as a department store would be a major blow to both Fiesta Mall and owner Westcor, particularly if the store closes, said Bob Kammrath, a Phoenix-based retail consultant.
"Under the present economic conditions, it would be a really tough go for the landlords to find a replacement, virtually impossible," he said. "Fiesta Mall isn't like one of the outlying malls that's in the path of growth where somebody might say, 'Well, geez, if we take over that space, 10 or 15 years from now we'll be well-positioned.' If the Dillard's closed, I wouldn't expect there's any chance of getting a replacement until the Arizona economy comes around."
Earlier this year, Fiesta Mall debuted an extensive remodeling that included adding Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods, and refurbishing the food court.
"I'm sure they thought they had just solved the problem they had when they did that major remodel and now this hits them," Kammrath said. "You're basically going to have a dead wing in the mall just like they did for three or four years when Robinsons-May closed."
If the surrounding population doesn't support a store like Dillard's, "you get the impression that the demographics in the area don't support a first-rate mall," he said.
Westcor referred all questions to Dillard's.
Mesa City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh wasn't surprised to hear that Dillard's is struggling at Fiesta Mall.
"Dillard's across the country has been having really severe difficulties given the economic crisis," he said. "The major department stores like Dillard's and Macy's have had stiff competition from retailers like Kohl's and Target, and Stein Mart, that offer similar apparel and goods, but at more discounted prices. The major retailers, like Dillard's and such, have had to go to really steep markdowns to try to stay competitive."
The city hopes Dillard's will maintain a presence at Fiesta Mall, Kavanaugh said. He said the city and other area stakeholders plan to meet with Dillard’s in the near future to discuss their operations at Fiesta Mall.
"Since the announcement of the potential change, they've been very busy and really had a lot of sales," he said. "They have not made any final decisions on what the outcome will be. I think a final decision ... is at least several months away."
Mesa Community College's enrollment is up significantly, therefore increasing the college-student population in the nearby area, Kavanaugh said. Also, Cardon Children's Medical Center at Banner Desert Medical Center is bringing more employees into the area, he said.
"There are things that are happening that I think help improve the demographics in the area for potential shoppers for the mall," he said.