Amid America’s Retail Meltdown, An Ode To Outlet Shopping

Whenever I travel to the United States with my family, one agenda tops our list: shopping. Be it an afternoon at Sears and Macy’s or an entire day at the outlet stores, our days ended with shopping bags in tow and tummies filled with milkshakes, pretzels, and good ol’ American junk food.

In the ’80s to early noughties, we were the quintessential Filipino family traveling to California. Like true-blue Pinoys, we saw the mall as an escape, a luxury. This was years before Manila’s upscale malls got facelifts and fast-fashion brands started mushrooming all over the Philippines. My father always planned our US itinerary, which revolved around theme parks and malls.

Throwback 1998: My sister and I in a Los Angeles mall

To tick off our long list of pasalubong recipients, we took advantage of the t-shirt and flip-flops sale in Old Navy. I waited for the clearance or red tag sale in Claire’s and hoarded boxes of accessories. To stand out in my school back in Manila, I filled my luggage with clothes from Wetseal, Aeropostale, PacSun, BCBG, Bebe, and Payless—budget-friendly but stylish at the same time.

With my family at Carlsbad Premium Outlets, circa 2002. Yes, that’s me on the far right. The fashion back then: low-rise cropped pants, blinged jeans, and wide headbands.

When it was time for Outlet Day, we had our usual game plan. Mama, Papa, my younger sister, and I would start at Nike, where we often bumped into fellow Filipinos looking to buy new pairs of shoes for half the price. And yes, we had cutouts of relatives’ feet in our wallets. After Nike, we’d go on our separate ways—my sister to Kitchen Collection, Papa to Tommy Hilfiger, Mama to Nine West, and I, to Charlotte Russe. We’d regroup for lunch or merienda at the food court, where we proudly showed off our budget finds of the day, and then see which family member still has space in his/her balikbayan box for those items.

Back in the ’80s to early noughties, malls were thriving in the US. Photo courtesy of Mediagoat/Pixabay.

If you look at the mall names and brands I mentioned, you will notice one common denominator—most of them are closing stores. America’s great retail apocalypse is seeing the decline of malls, while these once-famous brands are filing for bankruptcy (or slowly heading there).

Outlet shopping with my mother and sister, circa 2002, Las Vegas. Photo taken by my father.

I’m no expert on economics, but I am aware that this isn’t just a phase. For someone who spent many childhood and teenhood days at America’s malls, photographs of these now abandoned ghost towns are sad to look at. It’s like watching your childhood home get demolished or seeing a landmark swept away by a tornado.

The times they are a-changin’.

My family is planning a trip to the US soon, and it will be different. It’s been years since we all went to the US as a family. It will be my baby nephew’s first time out of the country. It will be my first time to plan a family US itinerary that doesn’t highlight outlets and malls. It will also be our first overseas family trip since Papa passed away.

What are your most memorable family travel stories?

May 4, 2017



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