Nebraska Crossing Outlets has been open for a few months, and this being the third week of January, it’s safe to say we’re well past the holiday season. With our Saturday wide open and the holiday crowds (hopefully) gone, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than visiting the new shopping Mecca conveniently located between Omaha and Lincoln.
Someone much wiser than me once said that shopping is often mistaken for creativity by the uncreative, who think the act of buying something is as imaginative as what it took to create it. Certainly that idea must apply to Kate Spade, Tommy Bahama and Cole Haan.
We found a parking space right outside Voodoo Taco and planned to start our adventure with lunch only to discover the restaurant’s capacity was just shy of a handful. With no tables available and a line snaking from the cash register, we put up our hoods and attacked the storefronts.
Unlike malls of yesteryear — the kind of malls I grew up shopping in — Nebraska Crossing Outlets was built as a “village” concept. Instead of all the shops enclosed in one large sarcophagus, the stores are laid out to form a quaint, modern town square to provide the illusion that you’re actually on vacation in a faraway hamlet that just happens to have a Polo Ralph Lauren store.
These open village malls -- like Village Point and Shadow Lake Towne Center -- have become the rage over the past decade and I can’t figure out why. Why would someone prefer walking outside from store to store vs. strolling casually in a climate-controlled consumer wonderland that smells of warm candied nuts? The act of going shopping at a mall is like going to the gym — once you’re there, you’re committed. "I'm inside now so what the hell, I might as well check out the latest footwear at DSW whether I need shoes or not.” And so on.
That commitment is lacking at outdoor village malls. “The Wicks & Things is located all the way over there? Forget it.”
Especially during the winter. As we walked the narrow “streets” that divided Oshkosh B’Gosh and Swarovski crystals, shoppers rushed past coatless. Summer girls ran arm-in-arm half naked, tears streaming down their faces, braced against a biting north wind as they forged their way to Planet Smoothie. Meanwhile, with our bulky parkas and gloves, Teresa and I looked like Arctic explorers about to tackle the eastern facing. I eventually figured out people were leaving their coats in their cars so they wouldn’t have to hassle with them when trying on half-priced cardigans at Dressbarn or Coach Factory.
With no real destination or specific purchases in mind, we wandered from store to store. First stop, the ultra-modern Bose Factory Outlet. They had a mobile in-ear headset that I’ve been craving, but the price wasn’t much (if any) cheaper than I could find on Amazon. I was looking for BIG SAVINGS, goddammit, not a few bucks off. I thought this was a factory outlet!
Next stop: the Converse store. Teresa bought yet another pair of Chuck Taylors for $24,99, and I almost bought a new pair of One Stars, but they didn’t have my size (12 1/2). And again, the prices were more than I could find online.
From there we were off to the hoity-toity Banana Republic Factory Store, where I stripped off my many layers of winter garb to try on a discounted sports coat. People stared as I stood wearing nothing more than an off-white underwear T-shirt. I quickly remembered why I don’t buy clothes at Banana — they're made for men with skinny twig arms. As I slid my arm into the sports coat I felt the sleeve tighten around me like a blood pressure cuff. I didn’t bother with my other arm.
Those of you not in your 40s won’t remember a time before The Gap existed in Omaha. I still remember the excitement when the first one opened at One Pacific Place. In its day, The Gap was the height of apparel innovation. BG (Before Gap), we bought our shitty clothes at JC Penney’s and Wards and Kmart because we didn’t know any better. The Gap changed all that. Who would have thought that a plain black T shirt could become a fashion statement? I still wear Gap clothing purchased back in the day and have oldsters come up and ask, “First generation Gap?” Oh yes.
Well, those days are long gone. Today’s Gap clothes couldn’t look more un-special or utilitarian or beige, like a suburban uniform for the color blind.
From there we hit J Crew, where I bought a pair of Nantucket-red business khakis I may never wear to work for fear that they'll be mistaken for pink. We turned our backs on Columbia Sportswear Company, Forever 21 (children’s clothes) Goldtoe (a socks store) Levi’s Outlet (yawn) and Skechers (cheap, clunky shoes) and headed straight to Michael Kors.
Yes, Michael Kors, the stout fashion guru and head judge of Project Runway. No, MK doesn’t offer menswear, but I still wanted to see what this icon was offering for us poor Midwestern shlubs. Disappointing. With its nautical theme and faux gold chains, the clothing looked like it was designed for the Housewives of Fairacres headed to a Junior League meeting.
We stopped back in at Voodoo Taco on the way out, but the line was even longer. This is what happens when you don’t have a food court. Like they have in real malls. Malls like the dying one we visited on 72nd and Dodge the following day, a once proud shopping center soon to be demolished to make way for yet another village.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.