Ah, the outlet mall. For years, Alaskans have planned trips to the Lower 48 around shopping excursions to these low-cost odes to retail. But come 2013, Alaska may see the doors open on its own outlet mall at Anchorage's Dimond Center.
The Outlets of Alaska at Dimond Center, as the project is currently being called, would be a 150,000 square-foot revamp of space inside the existing 750,000 square feet of retail space at the mall, located at the intersection of Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway.
Hugh Ashlock, who oversees leasing at the Dimond Center, said that the Dimond Center is an ideal location for outlet stores. As the most-trafficked mall in Alaska, the shopping center boasts 12 million annual visitors, according to its leasing brochure.
Outlet stores are cheaper versions of retailers that shoppers might find in a typical mall. Fashion stores such as Nordstrom Rack or Ann Taylor Loft -- even furniture retailers like Crate and Barrel -- have outlet versions, which occasionally sell overstock merchandise cheaper than it would cost in the main store. Often, items are created specifically for sale at an outlet store.
Outlet stores are targeted at bargain hunters seeking name-brand items at bargain-basement prices. While those deals aren't always available, the average discount a consumer might expect at an outlet rather than a retail store would be about 38 percent for comparable items.
Ashlock said that outlet stores are already showing interest in the proposed space, no surprise given Alaska's past retail performance -- the Best Buy in the Dimond Center is among the best-performing in the nation.
"We're having fairly good reaction from the outlet industry," Ashlock said of the interest following the project announcement. "They know there's a strong customer base in Alaska. They also know there's a lot of pent-up interest."
That "pent-up interest" may be the key to outlets' success in the Last Frontier -- Alaskans are known for hyping up out-of-state retailers and restaurants, often launching them into the upper echelons of national success in the early days after opening.
Additionally, in the same way that Alaskans who travel to the Lower 48 often make special plans to do a little shopping at outlet and retail stores, Dimond Center hopes to capitalize on shoppers from rural Alaska to make special trips to the outlets in Anchorage when they find themselves in town.
"We prize our Bush shoppers," Ashlock said, noting that there's a coupon book the Dimond Center distributes to anyone with an ID that says they're from outside of Alaska's population hub in Southcentral.
Ashlock said that the project hopefully will be completed by fall of 2013, meaning out-of-town shoppers can visit with their Permanent Fund Dividend money and do some spending. It also means the busy Christmas shopping season might feature a few new options.
So who might occupy the new storefronts? That's difficult to say. Ashlock said the leasing discussions are still under way, and construction won't begin until spring of next year. He did drop a vague, but tantalizing hint for Alaska fashionistas.
"Your usual suspects are who you're targeting," Ashlock said. "I'm not gonna name names, but we think that the market is ready for outlet shopping, ready for more fashion tenants -- women's fashion tenants, specifically."
"The usual suspects" of outlet retailers could be any number of stores, but included among the top-30 outlet retailers in the U.S. are mainstays like shoe retailers Nine West and Nike and clothing retailers like Gap, Ralph Lauren, Van Heusen and Jones New York.
Of course, any major retail announcement in the Last Frontier sets some shoppers' minds afire with thoughts of finally getting a Macy's department store in Alaska. Sorry to disappoint, but Macy's doesn't have outlet stores -- and their upscale Bloomingdale's brand only has a few outlets in a few states.
On the plus side, anyone who's visited the Dimond Center during the busy shopping season will be grateful that the new outlets will be inside the existing mall structure, since finding a parking spot can be nigh-impossible -- and may just become harder with the new retailers.
"You can't plan your parking for Black Friday," Ashlock joked about the day after Thanksgiving, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. "The parking lot would be 50 times larger than it actually is."
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com