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ODU's Karande Suggests Norfolk Outlet Mall Could Help Local Retail Landscape

By Brendan O'Hallarn

A crowded South Hampton Roads retail market will see a large new entrant on June 29, when Norfolk Premium Outlets opens.

The 80-tenant development near the border of Norfolk and Virginia Beach will include Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein and Columbia Sportswear, with other stores still to be announced.

Changing shopping trends, continent-wide, have triggered a wave of closures, hitting traditional retail giants such as Macy's and Sears.

But Kiran Karande, associate dean of Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business, said Norfolk Premium Outlets might be well positioned to compete in this marketplace, providing the potential of economic development for South Hampton Roads.

"The traditional criticism of all new retail is that the marketplace is too crowded, and these stores will simply take business from each other," said Karande, a professor of marketing who has published research about shopping at outlets.

But Karande suggested that Norfolk Premium Outlets, at Interstate 64 and Northampton Boulevard, could find a niche in the marketplace.

While the outlets may draw area residents away from local stores and even Williamsburg Premium Outlets, they could also draw shoppers from longer distances, as well as vacationing travelers. The Norfolk outlets, he said, are positioned to attract traffic from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel as well as the Oceanfront.

The opening of an Ikea store, another magnet retailer, near Norfolk Premium Outlets will bring additional business. "All of this incremental business is economic development," Karande said.

The ODU professor said outlet shops originally were quite spartan, often storefronts near manufacturing facilities, where defective or surplus products could be sold at a discount.

As the trend evolved, early outlet malls such as Potomac Mills in Northern Virginia or Birch Run in Michigan became tourist attractions in their own right, with bus tours bringing shoppers from great distances.

As outlet shopping has matured and become more prevalent near urban areas, Karande said, the facilities themselves have evolved, offering different products than would a store of the same name in a traditional mall or downtown.

"Shoppers have been conditioned to expect a different experience when they are outlet shopping. It is not only about bargains; it can be about the experience, too," Karande said.

The construct of the facilities -- with ample free parking and individual storefronts erected far more inexpensively than a brick-and-mortar mall -- positions outlets to compete more effectively with online retailers, "who are the real competition for most traditional retail stores," Karande said.

Stores are still being unveiled for the 332,000-square-foot Norfolk Premium Outlets, which is being developed by Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group. A job fair for the outlets at Norfolk State University in early May attracted dozens of prospective retail workers. Ultimately, the development is expected to provide 600 full- and part-time jobs.

The complex will be on the site of the former Lake Wright Golf Course near the Norfolk-Virginia Beach line. The golf course closed in 2015 after nearly 50 years of operation.

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