By Janet K. Keeler
Keep in mind that you're walking the hall of retail history as you hunt for bargains at St. Augustine Premium Outlets. That’s coincidental, considering you are shopping in the shadow of the oldest city in the United States.
St. Augustine was founded in 1565 and is considered the oldest continuously settled city in the country. St. Augustine Premium Outlets isn’t nearly that old but there are a number of historic retailers among the complex’s 75-plus stores. About a third of the businesses have histories dating back 65 years or more, some of them with roots in the 1800s.
Taking the prize for longevity is Brooks Brothers, America’s oldest retailer, having gotten its start in 1818. Henry Sands Brooks opened his first menswear shop in Manhattan that year when top hats and tales were de rigueur. Men’s clothes have changed immensely over time; for example, ascots have morphed into skinny ties, then to fat ties, and back again (a few times). Today, you’ll find Brooks Brothers attire in the most contemporary styles but still with the legendary label.
Spend a day at St. Augustine Premium Outlets, conveniently located off Interstate 95 west of the city, and tick off the historic shops as you fill your bag with bargain booty. (To double your shopping pleasure, another 75 stores await perusal at St. Augustine Outlets on the east side of the interstate.)
Brooks Brothers isn’t the only store at the outlet mall that’s been in business since the 19th Century. Clarks shoes, born in England in 1825, isn’t far behind, and all these years later remains a brand that promises comfort and quality. The Levi’s store carries an American story with each pair of jeans. Founded by Levi Strauss in San Francisco in 1853, the brand of sturdy jeans got its launch with money dug out of California’s Mother Lode during the Gold Rush.
Children’s clothing from Carter’s (1865) and OshKosh B’Gosh (1895) plus Bass shoes (1876) have long histories that include changing with the times to keep up with sartorial tastes. Charles Lindbergh was wearing Bass boots on his first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Bass is the maker of the original penny loafer. (Bass Weejuns!) As for the other two retailers, there is many a kid who outgrows their Carter’s onesies or OshKosh B’Gosh overalls long before the clothes have given up.
And get this… Jockey is a descendent of Coopers hosiery manufacturers founded in 1876. Think about that the next time you pull on your French-cut panties.
Chucks are among the most famous athletic shoes, developed by Converse and they first hit the basketball court in the 1920s thanks to basketball player and salesman Chuck Taylor. The company itself debuted in 1908. Right behind Converse is Samsonite luggage (1910) and Van Heusen (1910). The soft fabric for the collars of a men’s shirt was the invention of Dutch immigrant John Manning Van Heusen. This fabric allowed the collar to fold attractively. That’s something to think about as you scour the racks at the outlet store. You have to wonder, what did collars look like before?
Harry & David, a favorite source for mail-order fruit and other gift items, also came along in 1910. The mail-order part of the business was launched in 1934. Followed by Eddie Bauer (1920), Maidenform (1922), Zales jewelry (1924), Le Creuset (1925) and Haggar (1926). The French cast iron cookware is so sturdy there just might be lucky cooks who have perfectly usable hand-me-down Dutch ovens from that time. If not, the outlet is the place to pick up Le Creuset new and in a rainbow of colors.
At this point in your day of retail shopping history, it’s time to stop for a bite to eat. Oddly, the menu at China Max could keep the Americana theme going. We call it Chinese food but most of the dishes were developed decades ago for American tastes; they are largely unrecognized in China. So get an order of pork fried rice and image you are sharing it with Levi Strauss and G.H. Bass.
Historic shopping at bargain prices? Yes, please.
When you go…
St. Augustine Premium Outlets
2700 State Road 16
St. Augustine, FL 32092-0764
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