'It's finally here': Thousands flock to Gloucester Premium Outlets grand opening (NJ.com)
It was an early morning Thursday for Theresa Garrity. The Gloucester Townshipresident, her two daughters and three granddaughters were in line at the Nike Factory Outlet at 8:30 a.m., an hour an a half before the Gloucester Premium Outlets' 90 retail stores were set to open their doors for the first time.
"I'm very excited," said Garrity's daughter Erin Romani of Marlton, one of the thousands of shoppers who poured into the outlet center as its weekend-long grand opening celebration began Thursday.
A year (or 10) in the making
The morning's grand opening event kicked off in front of a packed crowd — which included hundreds of shoppers, invited guests and the Fralinger String Brand — at the outlet's central town square area, where elected officials and executives with Simon Premium Outlets spoke about the long road leading up to the big day.
"It's finally here," said Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer before the fesitivties got underway.
While the outlet center took a little more than a year to construct — "That's not a very long time, if you think about it," Mayer noted — the true foundation for the project began at least 10 years ago, when the county set out plans to build the traffic circles and interchanges to provide better access to Camden County College.
Mayer said there was no notion back then what the land between the Black Horse Pike, College Drive, Zimmerman Driver and Cooper Boulevard would become, but the project demonstrates the kind of return on investment a focus on infrastructure improvements can bring.
"[By improving the area] we knew something would happen," said Mayer.
The 65-acre tract of land, which was declared a redevelopment zone in 2008, was previously owned by a subsidiary of Cooper Health System. Simon officials gave a nod to Cooper Board Chairman George Norcross, in attendance Thursday, for the health system's role in selling Simon the land during the morning's remarks
Norcross' brother, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, was also on hand Thursday morning, heralding the use of union labor in construction of the site, the tenacity of Simon executives when it came to completing the project and his own memories of passing by the property and noting its potential.
"This is a remarkable spot," said Norcross. He also recalled how difficult traffic issues in the area were during his time attending nearby Camden County College, and said the improvements to roadways in the area had been the catalyst for the entire project.
"The seeds of what we see here today started a decade ago," said Congressman Norcross.
On the job
The construction of the 376,000 square-feet retail space spurred the creation of more than 250 temporary labor positions and 800 to 1,000 full- and part-time jobs in the retail center.
Many of Stacy Malatesta's employees at the Ann Taylor LOFT outlet are students are Camden County College, the district manager said, and most had been working furiously in the past two days to get the store ready for Thursday's big event.
"A lot of [the employees] are living here," she said, adding many of them and their friends and family members have been equally excited for opening. "This area has been in such a buzz."
Romani, who came shopping with her twin daughters, niece and mother on Thursday, said that she was thrilled for the job opportunities the outlets opened up for students at Camden County College, where she works.
"[Students] can come to work, go right over for classes," she said. "You can't beat that."
Beyond the economic boost she sees the outlet center giving the area, Romani said it's also a convenient place for them to go outlet shopping without having to trek to other locations in Philadelphia, at the shore or in central Jersey.
"No more Atlantic City, no more Jackson outlets," she laughed.
Her mother, Garrity of Gloucester Township, said it's also the perfect opportunity for her to spend a day out with her family. While just two of her daughters joined her Thursday morning, she said she has three others who are equally excited to come out to her hometown and check it out.
"I said we'll come next week," Garrity said. Before heading off to their next stops of Under Armor, Converse and Vera Bradley, Romani and her sister Bridget Bantle also said they loved the layout of the outlets compared to other centers they' been too, as well as the side.
"It's not too overwhelming," said Romani.
While many of the shoppers were working on crossing off their back-to-school shopping list, a number were already thinking ahead to the holiday season.
"This is like a little town," said Camden County College student Kevin Wilson, looking around while seated on a bench near the market center. "This'll be incredible at Christmas."