Mirabel (exurban Montreal), Quebec, Canada
I love Premium Outlets but, until very recently, had to visit the US if I wanted to shop there.
The Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets outside of New York City are legendary throughout the Northeast (in fact, no Montrealer’s roadtrip to the US is complete without a visit), but I’ve grown fond of other Premium sites, like Desert Hills outside of Palm Springs, North Georgia outside of Atlanta, Orlando Premium Outlets (the saving grace of the nightmare that is International Drive),Wrentham Premium Outlets south of Boston and the new (and sales tax free) Merrimack Premium Outlets north of Boston.
Nearly all Premium Outlets follow the same successful template: an excellent selection of stores, usually focusing on well-known fashion retailers but also selections of leather and household goods housed in pleasant, wood-clad open air settings that offer plenty of free parking. Visitors can receive a coupon book with additional savings. The only significant gripe I have with most Premium Outlets is their lack of any place to sit and relax for a while and, except for Starbuck’s at Woodbury, the inability to find a decent cup of coffee in any of these malls.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that US-based Simon Malls (owner of Premium Malls) teamed with Canadian shopping mall developer SmartCentres to bring the Premium concept to Canada with Toronto Premium Outlets. But I was downright shocked to hear that the second Premium location in Canada would be Montreal. Yes–we’re the second largest city in Canada so getting the second Premium Outlet makes sense demographically. But Quebec is a French-language province with laws requiring that all signage and operations be conducted in French. The province also has somewhat more restrictive operating hours than other North American locations—malls must close at 5 on weekends, for example—so many US-based operations elect to either delay an entry into the market or avoid it altogether.
To this casual consumer, the result seems to reflect a true partnership. Simon seems to have brought its Premium Outlet regulars to Montreal: stores that seem to locate in every Premium location, like Ralph Lauren, Osh Kosh B’Gosh, Banana Republic, Samsonite, Clark’s Shoes, and Sunglass Hut (to name a few). The wood clad buildings and open air arcades give the first francophone Premium Outlet the same look as its Anglophone cousins, even if the feel is decidedly French.
SmartCentres seems to have brought a local sensitivity to the mall. It snagged several leading Canadian retailers, including Brown’s Shoes, Tristan, Les Aisles de la Mode (which I could have sworn had closed for good in bankruptcy more than once), and Hudson’s Bay, which opened an outlet only to announce a year later that it was switching that outlet to the better known Saks Off Fifth nameplate. (The decision to locate an HBC outlet preceded the company’s purchase of Saks Fifth Avenue..)
While most US-based Premium Outlets feature tiny 3-operation food courts with about the same number of tables (and I’m not exaggerating all that much) and no outlets for computers, perhaps because of our long, cold winters or perhaps because someone has followed trends in Canadian food courts, the Montreal Premium Outlets has a huge food court building. It has 5 food choices on one side, and some gourmet food discounters dispersed throughout, scores of tables, free Internet, and lots of outlets for recharging phones, tablets, and computers: all in an Adirondack-inspired design with oversized gas fireplaces adding to the coziness of the site.
With Presse Café, the mall also offers something most other Premium Outlets lack—and that is a “must” for Montrealers: a decent cup of coffee. (For those unfamiliar with it, Presse Café is a local coffee chain.)
Nearby, a new strip mall has sprung up with an SAQ Depot (for those unfamiliar with it, SAQ is the provincial liquor store); Dairy Queen, RBC and Banque Scotia, and Walmart Super Centre.
Of course, as I do with all Premium Outlets, I wonder how “real” the bargains really are. Some of the stalwarts, like Banana Republic, are “factory stores,” meaning they sell merchandise specifically made for the outlet and never meant for the “real” Banana Republics. Others only locate in outlet malls, meaning they have no other means of selling. And of course, there’s the practice associated with my favorite disclaimer of all time: “Price marked might not have resulted in actual sales” which basically translates to: “We never sell this item at the suggested retail price. Ever.”
But Montreal is also a center for the fashion business and many large companies maintain operations in the city, meaning they might have extra stock to sell. And I have seen some truly bona fide bargains, especially at the HBC outlet: items from the retail stores that are truly discounted from their original in-store prices—and clearance prices. (I know; a $ sign in front of a number acts as a mnemonic for me).
In other words, go. At the least, you’ll get out into the almost country (Mirabel is 30 minutes north of Montreal) and have a pleasant time. At the most, you might get a great bargain.
Mall at a Glance
Anchors: HBC, Ralph Lauren.
National chains: The two echos—Ecco and Ecko—as well as Aldo, Browns, American Eagle, Amnesia Banana Republic Factory Store, Bench, Bath and Body Works, Calvin Klein, Carter’s / Osh Kosh, Clark’s / Bostonian, Danier Leather, Desiqual, Garage, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Jack Jones, Michael Kors, Point Zero, Rudsak, Samsonite, Sunglass Hut, and Under Armour. The Gucci and Under Armour outlets are their only stand-alone stores in the area right now.
Variety of merchandise: Fashion and accessories: outstanding. Gift food (that is, food other than staples needed for a meal): good. Other categories: extremely limited.
Prices are middle- to upper-middle range.
Food court: Limited but, given the food court nature of it, surprisingly healthy choice: A&W (hormone free meat), Kung Pao Wok (a local Asian food outlet with yummy choices), Panizza Umi Sushi, Zoukis (Mediterranean) and Presse Café (sandwiches and decent coffee). Plenty of tables for hungry shoppers; tables along the window walls have outlets, as do the single seats. Large gas fire places and a soaring ceiling give the food court an Adirondack ski lodge feeling.
Gift food available at the Lindt and David’s Tea outlets; Laura Secord sells ice cream cones.
Wikipedia page (English only): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premium_Outlets_Montreal
(Was out of date when I checked at the end of 2015; it said that the mall was under construction for opening on 30 October 2015.)