Everyone -- shopping fanatic or not -- has an outlet-shopping story to share.
Here are mine: I flip excitedly through a rolling rack of $1.99 salmon-pink jeans just inside the Gap Outlet Store entrance. Too bad they are all either size 0 or 1, a tight squeeze for my frame. Another time, at Gurnee Mills, I stuff a shopping bag with $2.99 floral-print Abercrombie & Fitch bras and camisoles.
It's all about luck. Don't expect your size to be there or see that fashion on a glossy magazine spread next (or even last) month. If you can incorporate patience and diligence into your shopping trip you will likely unearth a bargain.
Fortunately, Milwaukee is a short drive from many of the state's outlet shopping malls and stores. Just to the south, and off I-94, are two -- Prime Outlets in Pleasant Prairie (Interstate 94, exit #347, 11211 120th Ave., Pleasant Prairie, (262) 857-2101) with 65 stores, and The Original Outlet Mall (I-94 and Highway 50, Bristol, (262) 857-7961).
At Prime Outlets, designer duds -- for the last few seasons but in mint condition -- are stuffed into wall cubbyholes, store displays and rolling racks. Here's a sample: Polo Ralph Lauren, J Crew, DKNY, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace. Household goods (Corning/Revere, Farber Ware, Kitchen Collection, Fuller Brush and Pfaltzgraff) are the main draw at the Original Outlet Mall, but wise shoppers would also reserve time to dig through stores specializing in clothing and jewelry design.
You might find sweet electronics buys at Sony (Prime Outlets) or the Original Outlet Mall (Bose).
Johnson Creek Outlet Mall (I-94 and Highway 26, Johnson Creek, (920) 699-4111) is rarely crowded, meaning parking spaces are many and cash-register lines are few. Top female clothiers like Liz Claiborne, Motherhood Maternity, Jones New York and L'Eggs/Hanes/Bali/Playtex are there. Men can shop for everything from sunglasses (PacSun) to three-piece suits (S&K Menswear). Many unisex stores like Old Navy, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger are in the outlet center, too. Mikasa, Samsonite and Springmaid Wamsutta reportedly sell products at deep discounts.
There are at least two outlet boutiques within Milwaukee city limits. Everitt Knitting Co. (234 W. Florida St., (414) 276-4647) is a retailer of coldweather accessories like hats, scarves, gloves and mittens, in fleece or faux fur. Attached to its corporate offices is an outlet store.
A Milwaukee-based leather maker of handbags and briefcases, Mitchell, has an outlet store (226 N. Water St., Milwaukee, (414) 272-5942). Poke through lines of custom-treated leather skins, as well as hides of European and American leather.
Just a tad north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border is Jelly Belly Center (10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie, 866-TOUR-JBC), where "belly flops" (irregularly shaped beans) are sold. Kids, or youthful spirits, might like to hop on a 35-minute train tour. While you're there, try some of the newer flavors like "grass," "dirt" and the alarmingly accurate "vomit."
Berres Brothers Coffee (101 Western Ave., Watertown, (920) 261-6158) operates a coffee factory outlet next to its corporate offices. Besides traditional blends, you can pick up ground coffee in pastry-like flavors: Streusel Cake, Angel Food Delight, German Chocolate Cake and Cherry Cheesecake, for starters. They are sold in either single-pot samplers or by the pound.