Monday, August 19, 2013

Take two: St. Louis Premium Outlets gets ready to open in Chesterfield

August 16, 2013 12:15 am  •  By Kavita Kumar St Louis Post Dispatch

I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as I drove out to Chesterfield on Thursday morning to get a sneak peek of a new outlet mall getting ready to open.

Once again, a maze of orange cones and “no trespassing” signs on site tried to dissuade gawkers before the center opens to the public. Mannequins in the windows waited to be clothed. And there was a similar buzz of last-minute activity: store signs being hoisted above doors and landscapers applying finishing touches.

This center’s management team also had plenty to say about its billboards, which recently went up around town, and about becoming an attraction that would draw tourists from around the Midwest — and beyond.

Coming on the heels of the opening of the Taubman Prestige Outlets two weeks ago, the St. Louis Premium Outlets is getting set to open on Thursday. So this is a take two of sorts.

But Emily Zimmermann, the marketing director of the Premium Outlets, which is owned by Simon Property Group, didn’t seem worried about opening second.

“We aren’t really thinking about being first or second,” she said. “We’re just really focused on making our center and our grand opening the best it can be.”

And she was more than happy to tell me about other details, such as that the 350,000-square-foot center is 100 percent leased. And all but five of the center’s 90 stores will be ready to go on opening day. (The Taubman center, by comparison, is more than 80 percent leased and has opened about 47 stores with more set to open through next spring.)

To be sure, the two centers have a lot of similarities, including even some stores in common (more on that topic later).

And yes, for those of you who are wondering, St. Louis Premium Outlets also will be dog-friendly. Pets are welcome in the outdoor common areas, but it will be up to each store whether four-legged creatures may enter.

But the stores have plenty of differences, too. Some of the more superficial ones include the layout. Taubman is more linear while St. Louis Premium is set up more like a racetrack.

And some analysts have noted that the Taubman project has a superior location. Not only does it have better visibility from Interstate 64 (Highway 40), it has easier access from the highway at the Boone’s Crossing exit. If you’re heading to St. Louis Premium from the east, you have to backtrack a bit from Exit 14.

But probably the most crucial differences — the ones that matter the most to most shoppers — are the names on the storefronts. In the case of St. Louis Premium, they include a lengthy roster of designer brands such as Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Armani, Coach and Vera Bradley. And the newest mall will have the region’s only Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, a 28,000-square-foot store that is the center’s flagship.

Some fashionistas will remember that the St. Louis Mills — rebranded last year as St. Louis Outlet Mall — once housed an Off Fifth. That store, which opened in 2003, closed in 2007.

Amy Wittman, director of the Off Fifth at St. Louis Premium Outlets, worked at the failed Mills store.

“The mall did not end up attracting the stores they expected,” she said.

But she added that the store had loyal customers. And when they would look at the ZIP codes of customers, many of them were from Chesterfield.

“So even back then we said, ‘We should have built it in Chesterfield,’” she said.

One thing that has miffed a number of observers about these two malls is the fact that they are just three miles apart and yet have five outlet stores in common: J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, PacSun, Famous Footwear and the Gap.

Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst with Edward Jones, thinks that’s odd.

“I can’t imagine that both can be successful,” he said. “One of those stores is probably not going to make it.”

But Zimmermann didn’t seem worried about it when I asked her about it on my tour.

“I don’t think it’s an issue,” she said. “People are going to come here and they’re going to shop those stores and then they’ll go to other ones as well.”

Colleen O’Neill, the general manager of the Taubman center, noted that full-price J. Crew stores operate just four miles apart at the St. Louis Galleria and Plaza Frontenac. And they both seem to do just fine.

Tim Meyer, a senior vice president for Clayton-based Brown Shoe Co., the parent company of Famous Footwear, said in an emailed statement that he thinks both malls will be a big draw and so is confident about opening stores in both locations.

“We have stores in close proximity in other cities that do very well,” he wrote. “It is not something we do a lot but when it makes sense for our customers, we take advantage of the opportunity, especially when it’s in our own back yard.”


Store Listings for St. Louis Premium Outlets.

Taubman Prestige Outlet Mall is open

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