Shoppers Come by the Busload to ‘Middle of Nowhere’ : Nebraska’s District of Factory Outlets Growing Steadily
Bargain hunters come by the busload to this town “in the middle of nowhere” to shop for underwear, woolen goods, apple cider and other goods offered at hefty discounts in a growing factory-outlet district.
“The place with the fat ladies’ underwear was a ball,” said Jim Lysaght, who came with his wife on a tour bus filled with shoppers from the suburbs of Kansas City, Mo., 130 miles away.
“We spent about $200 at the woolen mills outlet and we’ve just spent $120 at Bordeaux,” Lysaght said, as the cashier at the women’s appliqued clothing outlet rang up the sale.
Arrive in Buses
Merchants in the outlet district say they expect a busload or two of shoppers almost every day, and hundreds of other people armed with checkbooks and credit cards arrive by car.
“The customer that comes in here is 98% out of town,” said Bill Parker, owner of the Clothes Tree store and one of the district’s promoters.
Parker said that almost half the shoppers in the district come 45 miles from Omaha, while 10% to 15% come from Lincoln and 10% come from the Kansas City area. The district, which is not far from where eastern Nebraska comes together with Iowa and Missouri, attracts shoppers from all over southeast Nebraska, southwest Iowa, northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas.
Roughly half the stores in the district sell clothing, and the others include an outlet for a local orchard, a wallpaper store, a craft supplier and a boot store that opened in early November.
Parker says the district is unique to the region. Outlet districts are common in other parts of the country and some factories have outlet stores in the Kansas City and Omaha areas, but the nearest concentrations of outlets and “off-price” stores is in Chicago and St. Louis, he said.
Pendleton opened a woolen mills outlet store in Nebraska City in the early 1970s and other manufacturers added outlets a few years later.
Merchants have no firm answer when asked when the outlet district evolved, but they agree that most of the growth has come over the last three years. Five stores opened in 1985, bringing the total claiming to be part of the district to 17.
More Businesses Added
“I don’t think there are too many Midwestern towns that can say they added 10 businesses in the last three years,” said Bill Gosch, president of the Nebraska City Outlet Assn.
The location, though removed from metropolitan areas, is a large factor in the district’s success, merchants say. Nebraska City, a town of 7,000 people in the southeastern corner of the state, is only a few miles off Interstate 29, the main highway between Omaha and Kansas City.
“A lot of people just kind of stumbled onto us because of all the highways,” said Sue Nelson, manager of the Bordeaux store, an outlet for a factory in Clarinda, Iowa.
Barbara Hendershot, manager of the Women’s Large Size Outlet, said the store’s parent company, Lots To Love, heard about the district’s success and decided to become a part of it.
“They got us started just three weeks ago and business has been super,” she said.
Linda Schreiner said she decided to open her children’s clothing and women’s accessories store at the advice of her husband, who runs another business and saw the people the outlets bring to town.
Parker said most of the stores in the district are not true outlet stores in which manufacturers sell their goods at reduced prices in stores they own. Most are actually off-price stores, which cut prices on name-brand merchandise more than typical discount stores do.
“Whatever they call us, we don’t care,” Parker said. “We just want them to come down here.”