Busy interstate crossroads make for great shopping stops in Asheville, N.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; Little Rock, Ark. and West Palm Beach, Fla.; where premium outlet centers have opened in the last few years.
Boston-based New England Development opened all of the outdoor outlet centers, starting with Palm Beach Outlets in 2014. All but Asheville are brand-new, and even Asheville, where a traditional mall was transformed, has the same modern vibe.
Location was critical in New England Developments planning, and each outlet center is next to a busy highway. Palm Beach Outlets is within view of Interstate 95; the Outlets of Little Rock is at the juncture of I-30 and I-430, halfway between downtown and the airport. Asheville Outlets is adjacent to Interstate 26, near I-40. Outlets of Des Moines, opened last fall, is at I-90 and Highway 65, six miles from downtown.
Each outlet is also surrounded by other attractions, which allows group leaders to create more appealing itineraries. In Des Moines and Little Rock, for example, outlets are within view of a Bass Pro Shops. The Des Moines center is also near Adventureland and Prairie Meadows Casino. Asheville Outlets is seven miles from the region’s biggest draw, the Biltmore Estate.
“They all are surrounded by options,” said Jennifer Rotigliano, vice president of property marketing for New England Development. “You can make a day of it.”
The size of each outlet varies, from around 100 stores in West Palm to a projected 60 in Des Moines. All are anchored by well-known national retailers, but each center also attracts local retail and restaurant tenants. “We want a diverse mix, to appeal to women, men and families,” Rotigliano. “There’s also a focus on what stores would have appeal in each market.”
Each center likes to send staff out to personally greet motorcoach tours, and encourages group leaders to let them know arrival times. Passengers disembark at sheltered drop-offs created specifically for motorcoaches, and the welcome typically includes discount coupon books and reusable shopping bags for everyone. Each outlet is also happy to make the arrival more of a special occasion. “No idea is too crazy for us,” said Rotigliano. “For example, we can greet the group with champagne and a small reception or supply chocolates or other treats.”
Some group tours use the outlet centers for a short break, stopping for an hour so people can stretch their legs, sit in the sun, power shop, visit the restroom or grab a pretzel, ice cream or other snack. Other tours will stay a half-day or more, especially those that include international travelers.
Groups with more time might join in on events each outlet center has created as they have moved beyond shopping to become community gathering places. For example, most offer free fitness classes, held outdoors or in vacant store space. A special class can be arranged for a group.
Each also has a variety of special events — vintage marketplaces, award-winning food truck festivals, charity fundraising runs and vintage car shows — that make use of outdoor spaces, including parking lots.
The centers’ open-air design makes them a nice change for group travelers.
In Des Moines and Asheville, fireplaces or fire pits make pleasant gathering places on cooler days. In warm weather, shoppers can relax in the sun on cushioned sofas or Adirondack chairs or beneath pergolas near splashing fountains.
Some spaces are available for “pop up” leasing so that a major retailer can test the market or a local restaurateur can hold a special dinner series.
Pushcarts are another way local businesses sell their wares. “We love doing local pushcarts,” said Rotigliano.
At the Palm Beach Outlets, for example, a pushcart called Fresh Mango offers shredded mango with varied toppings–from hot sauce to sprinkles.
It provides an experience that all travelers seek — the opportunity to push past routine and try something novel.
“Maybe they’ve never had mangoes,” Rotigliano said. “It gives tourists a chance to come in and try something new.”
For more information about New England Development’s outlet centers, contact Jennifer Rotigliano at JRotigliano@NEDevelopment.com.
800 Brevard Road
Outlets of Des Moines
801 Bass Pro Drive NW
(six miles from Des Moines)
Outlets of Little Rock
11201 Bass Pro Parkway
Palm Beach Outlets
1751 Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard