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Kittery Outlet Malls

20 Jul

Kittery, Maine. USA.

Note: Posts through the summer focus on malls in or near vacation areas, mostly in the US I-95 corridor. The Kittery Outlets are about an hour north of Boston.

Quick Review

Kittery, Maine was one of the original outlet meccas, starting as a collection of stores and eventually commercialized into a street of shopping comprising several somewhat scattered buildings on either side of US Highway 1. Some buildings only have three to five outlets, others have 20 or more. And unlike other outlet meccas, the different buildings seem to have different owners, providing the area with more variety in appearance.

Kittery is also a perfect location for outlet stores: it’s about an hour or so northeast of = Boston (providing access to millions of shoppers) and just over the border from scenic seaside Portsmouth, New Hampshire, making it a perfect location for a day trip.

More personally, Kittery provided my first outlet experience.

Like pleasant memories from the past, they have only deepened through the years, meaning expectations have only been elevated despite visits to some of the best outlet malls in the world. The expectations dashed when I visited in the early 2000s. Compared to the Wrentham Premium Outlets just south of Boston, they appeared ragtag and driving from building to building to visit just two or three jobs seemed inconvenient. (Or perhaps I became lazy.)

My visit in the summer of 2013 left me with a different impression. Perhaps because I was introducing my life and shopping partner to Kittery, perhaps tempered by 10 more years of outlet mall visits, or perhaps because I was on vacation, I was impressed by the Kittery experience this time.

Some characteristics I found especially helpful:

  • A large selection of stores, well over 100.
  • Among the selections are outlets that one cannot easily find at most other outlet malls, including Premium-branded outlets (which tend to have the best selections of stores). These include Calphalon, Crate and Barrel (which seems to have closed many of its outlet stores), and Orvis (which also has a limited selection of outlets).
  • For those seeking the outlet mall standards like the Gap Outlet, Polo, Brooks Brothers, and the outlet-mall-only Chef Collection, Kittery provides them, too.
  • Kittery even features some one-of-a-kind stores selling merchandise from other manufacturers and retailers, such as the Kittery Trading Post.
  • Many of the stores are actual outlets rather than factory stores. (An outlet sells discontinued and imperfect merchandise. A factory store often features products made especially to sell in the discount store, usually with styling and quality to match the lower price.) As a result, the mall features some unique finds not readily available elsewhere.
  • Although driving from building to building can be a drag, walking is reduced. On a hot humid August afternoon or, worse, during a rainstorm, that’s a perk. (Note to fitness buffs: you can park once and walk from building to building.)
  • Driving from building to building also encourages mission-focused shopping rather than browsing. That is, shoppers go to the stores that interest them rather than browsing past several stores that initially had no interest but because the shopper walked by it, they chose to enter and ultimately made an impulse purchase.
  • One of the larger buildings has a coffee shop where one shopper can rest while the other looks for bargains.

Kittery also provides a wider variety of dining options than many outlet malls, which usually have limited-selection food courts with even rarer seating and a few stand-only food vendors.

In other words, Kittery not only provides what people expect in an outlet experience—lots of stores and bargains—but also unique experience that discount malls don’t. (And if you’re up for a day trip, set aside some time to stroll the charming streets of nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire.)

Mall at a Glance

Anchors: Crate & Barrel, Kittery Trading Post (a store selling several brands), Orvis, Ralph Lauren.

National chains: Aeropostale, Brookstone, Children’s Place, Clark’s, Cole-Haan, Ecco, Hanes, Izod, Nike, Old Navy, Puma, Sunglass Hut, and Timberland

Variety of merchandise: Excellent, nearly everything except books, furniture, appliances, and entertainment.

Prices range from lower-middle to upper-middle ranges.

Special notes:

Discount coupon booklet available to AAA/CAA members in information office

Well rest-roomed. Many available and all seemed to be clean.

Food court: None.   Instead, offers few eating outlets, mostly in free-standing or smaller buildings.

One place to note: Noel’s Café and Coffee House.   Has an amazing seating area outside and coffee house. Has tables, rides, and is covered—so no one needs to worry too much about the elements in warm weather. For those worried about cold weather, however, Noel has lots of indoor seating.

Wikipedia page (focuses on the entire town, not just the outlets): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kittery,_Maine

Website: www.thekitteryoutlets.com

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Montreal Premium Outlets

20 Jan

Mirabel (exurban Montreal), Quebec, Canada

Quick Review

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.

Special notes:

  • Whether coming from the north or south, be prepared for traffic congestion on Autoroute 15—the main route to the Outlets. Northbound from Montreal, traffic is worst during rush hours on weekdays and especially frustrating on Fridays. Southbound, expect delays on weekends—especially Sundays—and ends of long holidays.
  • If you’re not used to Montreal weather, wear a warm coat when shopping in winter and be prepared to suffer humidity during the summer.

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.)

Website:

English: http://www.premiumoutlets.com/montrealpremiumoutlets

French: http://www.premiumoutlets.com/montrealpremiumoutlets/fr