Outlets still 'in'
There's lots of talk these days about the increasing popularity of online shopping options not only giving traditional brick-and-mortar stores a run for their money, but replacing them altogether — possibly sooner than later.
As with any technology-fueled social trend, time will tell if this phenomenon — exemplified by the rise of Amazon and the decline of venerable store chains like Macy's — becomes the norm or is just digital-age hyperbole.
As the battle for shoppers' loyalty plays out, the long-running Columbia Gorge Outlets mall in downtown Troutdale is investing in the future. With new management came a rebranding, remodeling, new tenants, and a renewed confidence that the center will remain a shopping magnet regardless of how ubiquitous Amazon becomes.
"We are embracing the 'experience' shoppers are looking for," said Rebecca Galuppo, vice president of marketing for The Woodmont Company, the new managing entity for the mall at 450 N.W. 257th Way. "Online shopping does not fulfill (that) experience. Oftentimes, items bought online still need a brick and mortar store to meet the shoppers needs. We are working to bring in retailers that shoppers want to shop at, along with a focus for expanded food offerings."
The 164,235-square-foot manufacturers' outlet center opened in 1991 between downtown Troutdale's main drag of Historic Columbia River Highway and Interstate 84. Currently 90 percent leased, the complex includes 38 tenants including venerable brands like Eddie Bauer, Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Adidas and Famous Footwear.
Outlet shops typically focus on overstock and discontinued items, although some brands produce products specific to outlets that differ from their retail first line products. Prices are commonly discounted anywhere from 25 percent to 70 percent off that of retail.
Time Equities Inc. acquired the property in January 2016 from Simon Property Group for $2.8 million, and brought in The Woodmont Company, a Texas-based operator of outlet centers and malls to handle leasing, management and marketing for the complex. Since then, the new management has initiated changes, many of them visible: removing "Premium" from the name, leaving it as simply Columbia Gorge Outlets; building a towering, stone-lined sign by the freeway on-ramp; painting and landscaping around the building; and replacing signage above the entrances of individual shops.
Galuppo said the cosmetic upgrades were conceived to fit the complex's location on the Sandy River at the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge.
"We find that Oregonians like to be more in line with nature in everything they do, including shopping," she said. "We've embraced this by selecting a natural color paint palate, creating an enhanced landscape plan with an ambience worthy of the (local customer base), plus expanding services to include a vehicle recharge station."
The latest addition to the mall is Bath & Body Works, and the Pendleton Outlet Store recently expanded into space that Claire's stores formerly occupied.
"Both are reporting great success," Galuppo said, noting that all current tenants have met Woodmont's performance standards since the company took over. "We see the opportunity for the strong to not just survive, but thrive, and the few spaces we have left available to lease we are able to be selective and ensure they have a solid plan and are a fit for our shoppers."
So where do these shoppers come from?
The location works well for manufacturers' outlets, she noted, partly because Oregon lacks a sales tax, and being situated on a major east-west freeway corridor with Washington just across the river creates a potentially strong customer base.
"We reach out to our neighbors in Washington and invite them to shop with us and save even more as a result," Galuppo said, adding that Woodmont's marketing focuses on a 60-mile radius of the Outlets. "Our billboard(s) on the highway communicates to the drivers who might decide at the last minute to pick up a special gift or to shop their hearts out at all our great brands."
A long period of negotiation on the need for a right-of-way through the Outlets to Urban Renewal property between the mall and the Sandy River was — at least for now — put to rest earlier this year when Eastwind Development, which owns part of the property behind the mall, withdrew its redevelopment proposal.
"They have a very strong desire to be a good part of the business community," noted Troutdale City Manager Ray Young on June 20. "They know that mall needs sprucing up."
Galuppo indicated the Outets' relationship with the city of Troutdale remains positive, and there are no immediate needs to alter the mall's configuration.
"We are pleased to work with the city to ensure the success of Columbia Gorge Outlets," she said. "The shopping center is our top priority. We embrace the people of Troutdale, and have found our investment in the center to be welcomed by the community."