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by Lisa Buie

Wesley Chapel, FL – Chad Doritan still had not declared a major when he took a public relations class. His project: Revive a campus restaurant suffering from lackluster sales. That’s when he honed his philosophy of marketing.

“It was much more than putting an ad in the school newspaper,” said the 35-year-old graduate of Denison University, a small liberal arts college just east of Columbus, Ohio. “Every point of contact is marketing.”

Doritan tweaked the menu, improved customer service, brought in live entertainment and dreamed up some promotions. At the end of the semester, the restaurant, whose name Doritan can’t recall, was still in business, and Doritan earned an A. A marketing director was born.

Today, after a career that has included working for a hospital, restaurants, hotels and shopping centers, Doritan is the marketing director for the Shops at Wiregrass, which is set to open Oct. 30.

Anchors Dillard’s and Macy’s are set to open Saturday, while Barnes & Noble will have a sneak preview from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29.

Doritan and general manager Greg Lenners face a daunting task. Open a 646,000-square-foot outdoor mall with more than 60 shops and restaurants amid what economists are calling the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

It’s also an area hit hard by the housing slump. Recent figures show 60 percent of central Pasco families owe more on their homes than they’re worth. And last week, reports showed U.S. retail sales in September fell 1.2 percent, much worse than an expected 0.7 percent drop and the largest decline in three years.

Despite the grim backdrop, the pair remain optimistic. They point out the mall is 75 percent leased, which they say is good given the economy.

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