Note: This column appears in the 3/8 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/9 issue of the Peoria Times.
When I was a kid, and before I actually ever went to one, an “outlet” was an entity of mysterious retail dreams. For the longest time, I was under the impression—because, I think, one of my idiot friends told me this—that the outlet was a place to find not only merchandise unavailable at its regular store counterpart, but also for considerably less money. The outlet, you see, eliminated the middleman. No more insane markups; these would be direct-from-the-manufacturer purchases. This was like a real-life infomercial, and I was never prouder to live in this land called America than when I spoke of the outlet store.
Finally, by my senior year in high school, I was presented the chance to go with some friends to “the outlets” somewhere in north Jersey. I think the town itself was called “The Outlets” because that’s the only thing people went there for. The streets were paved with jeans and the mayor was Tommy Hilfiger, some claimed. As if some dream had come true, I would actually be going to the fabled Nike outlet. I think I brought $25, and I had planned on coming home with three pairs of sneakers and some shirts.
Those certain disappointments in life that result from, as retrospect later proves, child-like naïveté become embedded in our souls, and this was one of those times. There was nothing for me to buy at the outlets for $25, and this was in 1996, when $25 was worth like $75. I bought a Cinnabon at the food court and lost the change when it fell out of my pocket on the car ride home. The outlets, by my estimation, were ten times more expensive than any store I had been to in my life. Also, my entire time there was spent being trampled by people who could, apparently, afford to purchase the merchandise, or were tying to steal it.
I was reminded of my childhood outlet experience when it was revealed recently that the Tanger Outlet Center will be built next to Westgate City Center. Regardless of my own personal aversion to outlets, this is, I think, good news. The outlets will reportedly bring with them up to 900 retail jobs, and many feel as though this will provide an economic boost to Westgate itself.
The reason Westgate needs an economic boost is because not many people were going to its retail stores—evidenced by, ya’ know, Westgate’s foreclosure—but now more stores will be nearby, so … yeah. According to various economists whom I have not actually spoken to, the economy is down not because people don’t have money, but because people don’t have enough places to spend the money they don’t have. Surely, many locals have said, “Westgate is alright, I guess. But call me when they build something next to Westgate that is like Westgate but with more stores. Then I’ll go.”
The Tanger Outlets will undoubtedly relieve the immense local pressure for more apparel. It probably won’t help the struggling Centerline District, or the Coyotes, or the locally unemployed who are overqualified to fold shirts, but still. It will help. Because that is what people are saying.
Although it may not help me, personally. I am 33-years old and still cannot afford to shop at outlets. I shop at Kohl’s. On the rare occasion I find myself at an outlet store, I go immediately to the clearance section, where I might purchase a t-shirt so that I can say I participated in the process. God bless America.