I stopped by the Gainesville Outlet Shops in Gainesville, Texas, in October and a jet could have landed in the parking lot and not touched a car.
I hadn’t been there in years, but I had heard that it was more like a ghost town than an outlet center. The description was more true than not. The south section was empty. I was all alone as I walked from one end to the other, my reflection staring back at me in the empty storefront windows.
It was really kind of eery. I remember when the outlet first opened in 1993. Shoppers from Oklahoma flocked to find bargains at the clothing and home stores, the kitchen shops and toy stores. The food court was always busy and no one could resist the fudge or cinnamon rolls.
I’m not sure when stores started to close and traffic slowed. The outlet mall, once a Prime Outlet center, was sold to a Texas-based bank in October 2008 and later to a Fort Worth company.
Today, the Gainesville Outlet Shops website directory lists only 14 stores. The How Bazaar, an indoor vendor market, opened a few months ago to lure weekend shoppers. Maybe it will work, but the empty surroundings do little to encourage a traveler to stop.
How does a once-thriving outlet center go from happy shoppers to empty parking lots? Was it the economy? The location? The management?
I thought about this as I walked through The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City. It was busy, even at noon on a weekday. Of course, this is prime holiday shopping time. But the center has been attracting plenty of shoppers since it opened in August 2011.
Will it still be busy in 10 years or will it slip into decline like the outlet center in Gainesville? The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City expanded last month with six new stores, including Kenneth Cole and Columbia Sportswear Co. The 348,600-square-foot outlet mall is 100 percent leased with more than 90 retailers, including restaurants. Popular retailers include Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, Coach and Nike.
It will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City’s outlet center fares in the years to come. Here’s to open doors and full parking lots for years and years and years.