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My earliest outlet shopping memories come from childhood road trips. On the way from Central Louisiana to visit relatives in South Alabama, we often detoured through Monroeville to stop at the Seat Cover Factory.
That’s what my dad called the Vanity Fair factory outlet, a big warehouse with stacks of jeans, T-shirts and enough cotton underwear to cover the seats of hundreds of little girls, including the three giggling in the back of the family sedan.
Outlets first appeared in the 1930s as locations for excess inventory and irregular items, said Dr. B. Andrew Cudmore, a marketing professor at the Bisk College of Business at Florida Tech in Melbourne. And that’s what they remained through the 1970s.
In 1974, Vanity Fair opened the first multi-store outlet, Cudmore said. In the years that followed, sleek outdoor shopping centers with new merchandise began replacing warehouses crowded with fashions from last season or “seconds” deemed too flawed to be sold in regular stores.
By February 2014, the United States had more than 12,798 outlet locations bringing in $31-$42 billion in sales.
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These days, many retailers manufacture clothing and accessories specifically for their outlet locations, according to a consumer blog from the Federal Trade Commission. These items cost less because they often are of lesser quality than what’s sold at a non-outlet retail store.
Knowing this doesn’t extinguish our desire to find a bargain, especially during the holidays. We love outlets because they offer one-stop shopping, and they often carry unique merchandise, Cudmore said.
We love them even though the actual savings can vary — 3% to 72% when compared to standard retailers, he said, citing Consumer Reports.
So as we roll into prime shopping season, here are some of our favorite outlet centers across the Sunshine State. All are definitely worth a road trip. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
Palm Beach Outlets, 1751 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach; 561-515-4400; PalmBeachOutlets.com
One could spend hours at this 7-year-old outlet mall that’s within easy reach of West Palm Beach’s top attractions. More than 100 stores. An eclectic mix of hot brands. An annex with an equally shop-worthy mix. Plus good grub. (Serious shoppers gotta eat.)
Where to shop? Your options include Saks Off Fifth, Coach, Le Creuset, J. Crew, Nike, Michael Kors, Banana Republic and others. At the Marketplace at the Outlets annex, you’ll find HomeGoods, Nordstrom Rack, Old Navy, Whole Foods Market and a batch of others.
What’s to eat? All manners of melted cheese at the Grilled Cheese Gallery. Comfort food at TooJay’s. And must-try pizza at Cucina Pizza by Design (at Marketplace annex). — Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach Post
Vero Beach Outlets, 1824 94th Drive, Vero Beach; 772-770-6097; verobeachoutlets.com
Yes, some of our favorite brands occupy units in the Vero Beach Outlets’ 340,000 square feet of retail space. Brands such as Coach, Williams-Sonoma, Restoration Hardware and Columbia are there, as are Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Ann Taylor.
Michael Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings recently opened an outlet store, and if you need a break from shopping, Vero Beach Table Tennis has a space with seven ping pong tables where anyone from beginners to advanced players can play. The center offers coaching and sells ping pong equipment, too.
But what do we really love about the Vero Beach Outlets? The stores and parking lots are rarely crowded. This is a place to take your time and linger over gift-buying decisions. And when you’re finished, travel east on 20th Street and cross the Indian River to Hutchinson Island, where you can enjoy a waterfront lunch at Ocean Grill and a little non-outlet shopping. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
Ellenton Premium Outlets, 5461 Factory Shops Blvd., Ellenton; 941-723-1150; premiumoutlets.com
Located in Manatee County about 25 miles from such famed destinations as Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key and St. Pete Beach, Ellenton Premium Outlets has been serving the greater Sarasota-Bradenton and Tampa Bay regions since opening in 1991.
An outdoor mall with covered walkways and lush landscaping, it’s home to 130 designer and brand outlets. These include Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Victoria’s Secret and the newly opened Fit2Run, The Runner’s Superstore, which was founded nearby in 2006 before establishing stores across Florida and Puerto Rico.
The dining options are mostly those found in a typical mall food court, but you will probably just want to drive about half a mile to the south and visit one of Ellenton’s popular waterfront restaurants. There’s the Old Florida gem Woody’s River Roo and the newer, trendier Whiskey Joe’s, both hugging the Manatee River that flows into Tampa Bay.
Also, Ellenton Premium Outlets hosts various events, especially around the holidays, beginning Nov. 19 with the tree lighting, where you can enjoy arts and crafts, music and children’s activities. — Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Miromar Outlets or Estero, 10801 Corkscrew Road, Estero; 231-948-3766; miromaroutlets.com
Like many outdoor shopping malls, Miromar Outlets sits along an interstate (this one I-75). It’s in Estero just south of the 7,200-seat Hertz Arena.
The visible spot lures travelers for sure, but it’s been a longtime popular retail destination for Southwest Floridians since opening in 1998.
Miromar boasts 54 stores and 19 restaurants, including everything from chains like Subway and Starbucks to local businesses, including Italian Kitchen & Brunch Patio.
A chain that began in nearby Fort Myers is Ford’s Garage, on the east side of the outlets. Ford’s Garage opened in 2012 and arrived at the outlets shortly thereafter, offering a variety of burgers, along with onion rings served on a piston rod, loaded mac & cheese varieties and desserts like caramel apple cookie skillet.
Popular stores include an Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap Outlet, Michael Kors and a Nike Factory Outlet. Miromar also offers live music year-round, along with yoga, car shows and pet adoption events. — Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News
While many people flock to St. Augustine for its history, outlet shopping is another attraction.
St. Augustine Outlets, 500 Outlet Mall Blvd., St. Augustine; 904-826-1052; staugoutlets.com.
Just off Interstate 95 and the State Road 16 exit, two malls offer scores of outlets and deep discounts. Both sites have free parking.
The St. Augustine Outlets at 500 Outlet Mall Blvd. has “more than 75 authentic fashion brands,” according to the outlet mall’s website. Those include H&M, Lucky Brand Jeans, LOFT Outlet, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH and Old Navy Outlet, among others.
Feeling hungry? Ford’s Garage, a popular automobile-themed restaurant, is just down the road from the mall.
St. Augustine Premium Outlets, 2700 State Road 16, St. Augustine; 904-825-1555; premiumoutlets.com.
For more upscale brands, check out St. Augustine Premium Outlets, which offers dozens of stores and a food court. Need to recharge your Tesla? Chargers are on site.
Brands include, among others, Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors, Nike, Coach, Crocs and Vans. ― Sheldon Gardner, The St. Augustine Record
Tanger Outlets, 1100 Cornerstone Blvd, Daytona Beach; 386-843-7459; tangeroutlet.com
You might forget you’re at an outlet center when shopping at the Tanger Outlets in Dayton Beach. It has the modern feel of a high-end outdoor shopping center. Then you see the price for that adorable, pink Kate Spade mini backpack and do a doubletake.
Is that really all it costs?
About 80 stores and restaurants can be found at the Daytona Beach outlets with brands including Banana Republic, Carter’s Babies and Kids, Florida Fishin Apparel and Maui Nix Surf Shop.
A Greg Norman shop is coming soon.
Dining options are mostly of the fast-casual, food court variety, but you can’t go wrong with a personal pizza from Rise Pies Handcrafted Pizza and a cinnamon pretzel from Auntie Ann’s. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
Silver Sands Premium Outlets, 10562 Emerald Coast Parkway W., Miramar Beach; 850-654-9771; premiumoutlets.com
Travel northwest along Florida’s Emerald Coast on State Road 98, and you’ll pass through a number of picturesque towns: Rosemary Beach, Seaside, Grayton Beach.
If you can resist the lure of gulf waters long enough, eventually you’ll reach tiny Miramar Beach, between Sandestin and Destin. That’s where, among the souvenir shops and seafood restaurants, you’ll find the shopping mecca of Silver Sands Premium Outlets.
With more than 110 stores — including Tory Burch, Disney, Samsonite, Eddie Bauer, Swarovski and Waterford Wedgwood — you’ll find more than enough to make you want to swap a day on the coast’s sugar sands for a day of shopping.
Keep your energy up with food from Panera Bread or Carrabba’s Italian Grill. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
Orlando is more than home to some of the world’s greatest theme parks. It’s also got its share of world-class shopping. From neighborhoods and quaint downtowns (Winter Park, Winter Garden, College Park and Ivanhoe Village) to the glitz of Disney Springs, Orlando is a shopper’s paradise.
Then there are the outlet centers, three of them.
Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores, 15657 S Apopka Vineland Road, Orlando; 407-238-9301; lbvfs.com
Located two miles from Walt Disney World, the Lake Buena Vista is a village-style shopping center with more than 50 stores, including Express, Fossil, G by Guess and Under Armour. The Team Outlet Store & Welcome Center features team gear and tickets for Orlando City and Orlando Pride soccer clubs.
Want easy access to the shops? It’s an easy walk from the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, a new luxury condominium hotel.
Orlando International Premium Outlets, 5269 International Drive, Orlando; 407-352-9600; premiumoutlets.com/outlet/orlando-international
Billed as “Florida’s largest outlet destination” on it’s website, Orlando International Premium Outlets features more than 170 stores. Valentino, Coach, Ugg, Armani Exchange, Cole Haan: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a favorite that’s not here.
More than 17 million people visit the center annually, so you might want to take advantage of valet or premium parking.
Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets, 8200 Vineland Ave, Orlando; 407-238-7787; premiumoutlets.com/outlet/orlando-vineland
Prada, Brooks Bros., Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Jimmy Choo are just a few of the luxury brands you’ll find at Orlando Vineland.
The shopping center is close to SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World. The center has multiple dining options, including Shake Shack (because shopping is always better with a milkshake).
One thing to remember when visiting the Orlando outlets: This is a tourist city, and these shopping centers can get crowded. It’s best to go early or during the week, and in addition to your cash and credit cards, bring lots of patience. — Suzy Fleming Leonard, FLORIDA TODAY
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