“I'm cheap, but that doesn't mean I want to wear cheap-looking shoes,” Rebekah Clark explains as she strolls along the breezeway at Silver Sands Factory Stores in Destin, Fla. On the way home after a sunny weekend vacationing on Florida's Emerald Coast, the 29-year-old mental health caseworker has stopped off to spend a couple of hours bargain-hunting for new fall work shoes.
A resident of Montgomery, Ala., Rebekah makes the four-hour drive to Destin at least three times a year to relax on the sugary beaches, and each time she comes, she's sure to make a pit-stop at her favorite shopping spot, the outlet mall. Monitoring de-institutionalized, mentally-challenged clients by day and finishing up her master's degree in clinical psychology by night doesn't leave much time for shopping. And her limited salary leaves even less room for extravagance.
So she purchases most of her apparel at outlets, building factory store outings into her vacations and trips to visit friends. “The prices are much lower than in regular stores, and I get more for my money,” she says, proud of her frugality.
Rebekah spends up to four hours per shopping trip to get the maximum amount of spending done during her limited time at the outlet malls. According to Hollander, Cohen & McBride Research, she's not alone. The firm reports that the average outlet shopper stays for two hours and 6 minutes, 60 percent longer than they shop at regional malls.
At Silver Sands, locally based owner The Howard Group spent an extra $500,000 on landscaping to keep the center on par with the lush scenic beach highway it fronts. Shell icons, beachy colors, palm trees and bougainvillea create a calming atmosphere, but offer little protection from the torrid Florida sun.
Working up a sweat and a little uncomfortable from a slight sunburn, Rebekah insists on driving from store to store, rather than walking under the shaded promenade like most of the customers. The Nine West outlet store is her ultimate destination. She's loyal to the brand because she knows the shoes are fashionable yet comfortable, and the factory store prices are reasonable compared to the regular store prices.
But she stops in the Nike store first to peruse the tennis shoes. The large store is cacophonous with the sounds of kids darting around, dribbling basketballs and scrapping with their siblings. A display of $6.50 Nike t-shirts catches her attention at the front of the store, and she ends up leaving 30 minutes later with a $70 pair of running shoes and three of the shirts.
Next, she steps into Famous Footwear, a store she has never heard of before, and her nose wrinkles. “Yuck, everything in here is made of plastic,” she says in distaste as she does an about-face.
A few stores and a gelato break later, she finally makes it to Nine West. The store is having a sale: buy two pairs and get one half-off, a deal Rebekah cannot refuse. She ends up leaving with three pairs of shoes — real leather, not plastic, she points out — for a total of $150. “I won't have to buy new shoes for another few months now,” she sighs with relief.
Location: Destin, Fla.
Size: 516,000 sq. ft.
Opened: 1990 Last Expansion: 2002
Major Tenants: Brooks Brothers, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Harry & David, Gap, Liz Claiborne, Lenox, Mikasa, Nike Factory Outlet, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Nine West Outlet, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, Springmaid-Wamsutta
Occupancy Rate: 98 percent