For people flying off or arriving here for the holidays, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is trying to be as worthy of last-minute shopping as the Mall of America and all the ’Dales.
In a sweeping retail and restaurant makeover that takes place about once a decade, more than 35 new retailers and 15 restaurants opened at the airport this year and are now making their holiday-season debut.
Gone are generic shops selling collectible spoons, thimbles and shot glasses at jacked-up prices. In their place are national and local brands such as MAC cosmetics, Hammer Made limited-run shirts, Smack Shack lobster rolls and Adam Turman art prints. And pricing is far more competitive.
“People want global and local,” said Pady Regnier, CEO of St. Croix Airport Retail, which operates nine stores at MSP as well as five other airports. “We give them authentic local and national brands without the parking problems and long checkout lines at the regular mall.”
Of course, there is that pesky issue of needing a plane ticket for admission. But holiday travelers flying in and out of MSP for the holidays can fill up Santa’s carry-on with outdoor accessories, cellphone cases, Kiehl’s lotions, Swarovski trinkets, Baggallini handbags, candles, books and Vikings gear.
“This is a lot more convenient to shop at the airport instead of spending time at the mall,” said Karen O’Connor of San Francisco, who had a two-hour layover at MSP earlier this week and found herself doing last-minute shopping.
She bought SmartWool socks for her kids and a Yeti coffee mug for her daughter’s boyfriend at the outdoor gear and apparel store Adventure North. “The mall is awesome,” O’Connor said.
The airport’s retail makeover gets kudos from shoppers but outsiders are also noticing. MSP collected several awards this year, including the best retail program in a North American airport by USA Today and Airport Revenue News and best renovation of a retail space by the Minnesota Shopping Center Association.
“MSP was one of the first airports to add an airport mall with vibrant shops and local restaurants,” Regnier said. “We want people to know they’re in Minnesota, not just any airport that looks like all the others.”
Regnier and Pia McDonough, general manager for Delaware North Travel Hospitality Services at MSP, are getting the word out that the airport is perfect for last-minute gifts. Sales at Delaware North’s 10 MSP stores are up nearly 20 percent in the last five days, McDonough said.
“Since the remodeling and beefing up the retail at the airport, this is a legitimate shopping destination now,” McDonough said. “A lot of airports have their shopping too spread out. Ours is concentrated enough to make it as worthwhile.”
Isabella Rhawie, manager of concessions and business development for Metropolitan Airports Commission, said that the airport mall offers enough variety that passengers with extra time feel less of a need to head to other nearby malls.
“We’re giving Mall of America a run for their money,” she said. “We’ve got fabulous brands and good customer service. Our employees are trained to get you in and out if you’re in a hurry.”
Convenience is important to airport shoppers, but so is price, said Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell, a research firm. “The customer’s perception is that airport goods are convenient but expensive,” he said. “Airport retailers have to confront that.”
A chicken sandwich and bottled water may cost more at the airport, but concessionaires say that retail brands don’t want to see airport markups anymore.
Tim Creagan, district manager of Hammer Made menswear, said, “Our customers can shop us knowing that our prices at the airport store are the same as our regular stores.”
The airport store also ships orders for free and, if desired, will have an employee walk a phone order to the customer’s gate to save time. Some of Hammer Made’s harried customers make a point to shop at the airport store because they can call or text the store to have a shirt ready when they arrive.
Regnier said “street” pricing, which is regular pricing without a surcharge, is required by the brands she sells, although some sports labels may be higher.
And what about gift wrap? That can pose a problem if the item has to pass through security on a connecting flight, so many stores supply gift bags, sometimes at no extra cost. Higher-end stores usually have high gloss flattened boxes, tissue paper and a belly band.
Travelers with no time to browse can also rely on gifts from the procrastinator’s bag of tricks. National and local airport stores sell gift cards. The Minnesota Lottery has a kiosk on the mall’s main concourse.
“We’ve always been in the grab-and-go business, but now we have a chance to satisfy the customer who wants something more useful than a souvenir mug,” Regnier said.