When we got off at Northway Exit 20 in Warren County last weekend, there was no long line of cars waiting to turn left for the well-known “Million-Dollar Half-Mile” of outlet shopping near Lake George.
Oh-oh, I thought. Perhaps the email that came from a retail research aggregator with the provocative subject line “Are Outlets Out?” was dead-on.
Locals know that Exit 20 can get backed up as bargain-hunters compete with commercial traffic that uses the same northbound lane of Route 9 to access Vermont and points east via Route 149, located just beyond the five outlet centers that hug both sides of the road.
But I could see full parking lots as we inched along, stopping for shoppers in crosswalks passing from center to center to find the likes of Adidas, Levi’s, Eddie Bauer, Coach and other national names at discount.
The spring and summer have been tough, though, for enclosed malls, open-air “lifestyle” centers and outlets, according to Placer.ai, a location analytics firm that tracks shopper visits.
Outlets in particular have seen visits decline versus 2021, down each month since May; mall and outdoor center visits turned negative in July.
Placer blames the slump on the “lingering challenges” of inflation and high gas prices, which cut into consumers’ discretionary spending or made them think twice about recreational shopping.
One bright spot could be a drop in gasoline prices since June highs, which Placer reported last week was evident in August outlet visits, where the year-over-year decline was a bit less than it had been in July.
Placer also said that while the monthly data for August “paints a picture of overall struggles,” a look at the change in visits weekly versus 2021 indicates “a more positive situation” toward the end of the month, which could signal a rebound that carries through the fall.
(Since the Placer report, the government released the August consumer price index, which ticked up 8.3% in August despite lower gas prices. Inflation pushed grocery bills 13.5% above August 2021.)
Laura Kohls of KDA Hospitality, who operates the Adirondack Outlet Mall at Exit 20, sees “some truth to the concerns” expressed in Placer’s foot traffic report.
But tenant stores that have cultivated relationships with both local shoppers and repeat tourists “are staying on top of their performance,” she said by email.
“[W]hile there may be less foot traffic in some locations, the shoppers that are making the trip are there to purchase,” she noted.
The Exit 20 outlets benefit from their location near year-round vacation destinations in the lower Adirondacks. Sales may peak in July and August, but “we will continue to see strong results all year,” Kohls said.
Like other sellers, outlet retailers have had supply issues that affect product mix and availability. “But for those with merchandise,” Kohls said, “the sales data being reported for the summer season shows they sold it.”
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]