NOTE: This travel story was written for my Magazine class. I traveled to the outlets in November, 2014.
Comfortable shoes – check. Visa card – check. GPS – check.
Last Saturday, the way I prepared for a glorious day of outlet shopping was definitely exaggerated, but I prepared the only way I knew how. Understand that my 45 minute drive to Premium Outlets Montreal, a discount shopping center, was significantly shorter than the usual five hour drive and weekend getaway I take every summer to the shopping haven found in North Conway, New Hampshire. The extra snacks I put in my purse were not at all necessary.
But perhaps I would never have to make that long drive filled with discount shopping anticipation again, since this new outlet shopping center opened its doors on October 30, 2014, in Mirabel.
I set my eyes and my paycheck on the recently opened shopping mecca and got ready to find out.
This outlet destination is only the second of its kind in Canada and the first of its kind in Quebec. Its retail floor area totals 365 500 square feet and houses a total of 84 boutiques and restaurants. But this can be considered only phase one of the discount center. Its operator, the Simon Property Group, says the outlet can easily grow by another 100 000 to 150 000 square feet.
Besides getting my hands on a few items I wanted – running shoes, booties, some winter wear – I was inspired to learn how this Canadian outlet shopping destination compares to its American counter-parts.
About three-quarters of Canadians live within 160 kilometres of a border crossing and take advantage of shopping opportunities in the U.S. with single-day and overnight trips. It is estimated that Canadians made 56 million visits to the U.S, in 2012.
The number of cross-border shopping trips is mainly due to a well-known Canada/U.S. price gap. Just turn around any book you own and you will be faced with a looming American versus Canadian dollar price difference. The “country pricing” policy is well-known and is a worrisome issue for the Retail Council of Canada.
But until Canada gets their pricing in-check, frugal fashion lovers like myself continue to hop the border to shop. But after considering gas money and hotel fees for an over-night stay to get to a shopping haven like North Conway, the land of zero percent sales tax, another option closer to home has always been welcomed.
Thus I welcomed Premium Outlets Montreal with opened arms and made my way to the destination with high hopes. Premium Outlets is an iconic shopping destination for travellers who have ever visited the outlet villages in cities like New York, Boston and Las Vegas.
I left my home on the West Island of Montreal slightly behind schedule at 11:07 a.m. One Tim Horton’s stop (totally not necessary) and one wrong turn later (never trust me with the GPS), I arrived at the discount center at noon.
The Mirabel center parking lot was impressively full. A parking employee directed cars to the right and to the left in no particular order to empty spots.
The names of retailers like Old Navy and Gap were plastered on the side of the village-style outdoor mall.
Watching shoppers walk along the outdoor brick walkway with shopping bags in hand, I could feel myself getting increasingly excited to get a look at the merchandise and hopefully hot deals.
No time to waste, I entered the chalet-chic outdoor mall and opened the doors to the first store found on my left; Nike. As the parking lot suggested, Nike was modestly full with shoppers. The store was comprised of neatly arranged merchandise and a large shoe section. A sign on one of the tables in the men’s section filled with carefully folded T-shirts showcased one of the day’s promotions - two T-shirts for 20 dollars.
On display in the shoe section, were Nike’s popular Free Runners showcased at its regular price of 119 dollars. But after digging a little deeper through the merchandise filed by shoe size along the wall in the back of the store, I found Nike Free Runners priced at 74.99 and 64.99. My tiny feet earned me a pair at 50 dollars in the kids section, size 6. I left pleased.
Outside of the Nike store I came face to face with Espace Resto, the food court, and as the clock was approaching 1 p.m., I went in. A full food court indicated I wasn’t the only hungry shopper.
I could smell the greasy food from Kung Pao Wok once I entered the food court, but I made the unfortunate decision of having sushi from Umi Sushi. After circling the food court for a second time for a seat, I managed to grab a table from a young couple.
I conveniently sat next to one of the entrances leading to Michael Kors. After an unsatisfactory plate of spicy tuna, I entered Michael Kors to a number of discounted items like 75 dollar wallets and 139 dollar cross-body purses. A significant discount.
Next stop conveniently located right across from Michael Kors; Coach.
“Today everything in-store is 50 percent off and items that are already on sale have an additional 30 percent off,” a sales woman standing at the store’s entrance proclaimed as she handed me the day’s coupon.
The large all-white space was filled with colorful purses as well as some winter accessories like scarves and leather gloves. I decided to seize the moment for Christmas shopping and picked up a beige cashmere scarf for my mom. The tag indicated it was 128 dollars and at check-out, after all the discounts and taxes it came out to 52 dollars.
I thought I made a good deal, until I heard the sales woman at the cash next to me declare “that will be 56 dollars.” The woman was purchasing a canvas cross-body purse. I couldn’t help but smile in admiration for this woman’s amazing discount conquest.
The rest of the afternoon went on to the same tune of visiting the ins and outs of stores. On my way out of Coach, I made my way past Diesel, Lacoste and Manteaux Manteaux and into Browns followed by some browsing at Sarah Pacini.
But the real damaged occurred when I entered the Hudson’s Bay outlet. The atmosphere of the large one floor terrain was similar to a warehouse. It was packed with items from coats, purses, pajamas, shoes and clothes. I browsed previous seasons merchandise from brands like Vince Camuto and Rachel Roy. The selection was vast, but it definitely required some digging, which explains why I spent over an hour in store.
By 4:00 p.m. the shopping mecca had already largely emptied out. It was getting darker and the day’s already cold weather was dropping. I made a stop at David’s Tea for a cup of lime gelato tea to warm up my hands and continued some browsing at Banana Republic and Adidas.
Children were taking one last ride down the slide at a small neighboring playground before parents said it was time to go to the car and head back home. I watched as I grabbed the last few sips from my cup of tea which was quickly cooling down.
Considering the five shopping bags I now had in hand, I definitely considered the day a shopping success. After some digging I was pleased with the deals I found and keeping the 15 percent sales tax in mind, I thought prices were comparable to the ones found in the U.S. Watching young couples lead their happy children to their car, I also realized the afternoon was relaxing and all around enjoyable. The cold prevented me from pondering outside any longer, but staring back at the shopping village I knew I already looked forward to returning during warmer weather.
Would the new shopping haven replace my weekend getaway to North Conway? No it wouldn’t, but it will satisfy my discount shopping needs for the moment or at least the months leading up to another cross-border shopping trip.
UPDATE: I returned to the outlet mall 3 times at the beginning of 2015 (Jan.-March) and was very satisfied with the after christmas deals found at The Bay Outlet. The 35 minute drive is worth it just for a chance to get merchandise from The Room collection at significant discounts (up to 60% off).