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by Kevin McQuaid
HeraldTribune.com

Sarasota County, FL – Costco Wholesale Corp. is exploring opening a members discount club in Westfield Sarasota Square Mall, using space Dillard’s department store abandoned last year.

If the Issaquah, Wash.-based retailer’s plans reach fruition, the store would be Costco’s only Southwest Florida location. Its next closest stores are in Brandon and Clearwater, according to its Web site.

For Westfield, landing Costco — the nation’s fifth-largest retailer with more than $70 billion in annual sales — would fill a critical hole. After Dillard’s left Sarasota Square amid anemic sales, Westfield acquired the department store’s 8201 S. Tamiami Trail space.

At the same time, however, landing Costco would dramatically alter the complexion of the mall, once one of the region’s premier shopping hubs.

That is because so-called “category killers” like Costco typically offer consumers lower prices on everything from furniture to prescription medications by shedding frills. In many cases, retailers like Costco steal business from traditional malls’ specialty stores.

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