Outlet mall’s prime recovery

Associated Press

BURLINGTON — Business at the Prime Outlets mall is bouncing back after the slowdown caused by the East Coast terrorist attacks.

The effects on retail sales may have been more noticeable at Prime Outlets because a large percentage of the 2.6 million people who shop there each year are from Canada.

Sparse shopping crowds led to drops in sales for a number of shops, store managers and owners said. Now, two months after the incident, foot traffic has improved and many mall workers are optimistic about the upcoming holiday season.

The 45-unit, strip-style outlet center on Fashion Way features factory-direct and discounted merchandise from several national companies. Prime Outlets has 38 tenants with the addition of its latest — Eddie Bauer.

The national clothing store has leased the former 6,000-square-foot Bugle Boy location. A construction crew is renovating the space and preparing for a Nov. 16 opening, said Ray Andrews, mall manager.

The terrorist attacks, which brought tightened security at border crossings, have made it challenging for Canadians to enter and leave the United States. But that’s not the only factor affecting mall business, Andrews said.

Part of the problem has been a low exchange rate on the Canadian dollar that has made shopping in the United States more expensive. In addition, layoffs at Boeing and area high-tech companies as well as the softening stock market have left Americans with less disposable income, Andrews said.

"It all ties together," he said.

Sales at Vans Shoes Outlet have dropped significantly, said manager Tammy Pietrczak.

Before the September attack, the store was meeting and exceeding planned growth projections, and had been the past three years.

"We were rocking," said Sara Carty, assistant manager.

Canadian sales have almost been nonexistent since Sept. 11, Carty said. Foot traffic has improved, but hasn’t returned to normal levels.

Not everyone at the mall has been affected financially by recent events. Some stores may not be as busy, but shoppers are still spending money, said several shop managers and owners.

Ken Rushane and his wife Cindi own and operate the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and the Country Rose.

Mall traffic has been down between 3 percent to 4 percent, but customers are spending more money on chocolate, Ken Rushane said.

Some Canadian customers have expressed frustrations with car inspections at the border, said Rushane, who believes Canadians have been traveling to the area less since the attacks. He hasn’t seen much Canadian currency lately.

Other managers said Canadian customers have indicated they are staying in the area longer because of the time required to cross the border. Rather than coming for the day, shoppers are staying overnight, they said.

Security issues at the border haven’t been too much of a problem for Michelle Feaver, a Canadian who shopped at Prime Outlets recently while visiting a friend in Bellingham.

Feaver said she used to shop in Washington quite a bit, but hasn’t too much recently because of the exchange rate.

"Its really expensive to come shopping," she said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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