Listening to shoppers J'Nai Buchanan of St. Louis Park, Jana Miller of Bloomington and Alana Lea of Shakopee praise the new Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan on Thursday, I became a bit worried for Premium Outlets of Albertville. The three co-workers talked about how Eagan's layout, food and store selection is superior to Albertville's.

"Goodbye Albertville," said Miller laughing. The others quickly nodded in agreement.

Initially, it's easy to jump to that conclusion. Eagan's outlet mall is much more convenient in terms of layout and parking, and the store selection is impressive. But it's not surprising that residents from southwestern suburbs would prefer Eagan. It's a lot closer for them than Albertville.

When I asked Megan Kleve and Libby Schuett of Blaine which outlet mall they like better, Eagan won. But the two said they were more likely to visit Albertville more often. "I might come to Eagan twice a year and around the holidays," said Kleve.

What a lot of shoppers may have missed in the hubbub of the new outlet mall with exclusive stores such as 7 for all Mankind, Calphalon, Cole Haan, Armani, Vera Bradley and Steve Madden is that Albertville has just as many exclusives.

In other words, Albertville has more than 20 national brand stores not found in Eagan---stores that I'm guessing Buchanan, Miller, Lea and others wish were in Eagan. Stores that may have them driving back to Albertville include Lululemon, Kenneth Cole, Ugg, Aerosoles, Aldo, Bose, Harry & David, Aeropostale, BCBG Max Azria, Columbia, Guess, Icing, Izod, Jones New York, Lane Bryant, Levi's, Nautica, Rockport, Rue 21, Zales Jewelry and Zumiez.

My hunch is that residents of Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Plymouth and even Minnetonka will check out Eagan if they like outlet malls, but they'll go back more often to Albertville for convenience. It's simple--Albertville is closer. Both malls have 100 stores and they have nearly 60 of the same stores in common.

It's difficult to imagine Simon Property Group, the owner or co-owner of both Twin Cities outlet malls to let one flounder at the expense of the other. Let's hope that it will strengthen both as even more tourists will be drawn to the Twin Cities for the sudden expansion of outlet stores.

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What do we really think of outlet malls?

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