Herberger's has opened its first free-standing outlet store in the Birch Run Station shopping center, one block west of Maplewood Mall.

It's the first Herberger's branded outlet store for owner Bon-Ton, which also operates 271 department stores in 25 states, including Younkers and Carson Pirie Scott.

The store opened Wednesday to large crowds, a surprise since the official opening starts Friday. Most shoppers discovered the store by accident when driving by.

Connie Sarne of Maplewood said she usually shops at Kohl's, T.J. Maxx and Macy's, but thought the deals in the kids and home departments were excellent.

"I got an 11-piece set of Paula Deen cookware at 75 percent off," she said. "I may not agree with what Paula said in the news, but this is a great deal."

Herberger's chose to open the clearance center in the Twin Cities because the chain has been "extremely successful here," said John Morgen, director of clearance operations.

The midpriced department store also has a low-profile clearance center on part of the second floor at the St. Paul Midway store on University Avenue.

Opening an outlet store that isn't a part of an outlet mall is somewhat rare today, said Dave Brennan, co-director of the University of St. Thomas Institute for Retailing Excellence.

But Herberger's is not going out on a limb in this location. "They're placing themselves in a value-oriented strip mall," he said.

It may not be a full-blown outlet mall similar to Albertville Premium Outlets, but Birch Run Station tenants include Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory, ApplianceSmart Outlet and Savers.

Locating an outlet so close to full-price retailers used to be verboten, but Brennan said that tradition is no longer valid. The new clearance center is only a few miles away from a full-price Herberger's in Rosedale and only a block away from Maplewood Mall.

"The Eagan outlet mall that opens Aug. 14 will only be a few minutes away from Mall of America," he said.

Herberger's 27,000-square-foot outlet space in a former OfficeMax includes a large selection of ladies, kids and men's clothing, accessories, shoes and home goods at discounts of 60 to 80 percent. All of the merchandise comes from full-line Bon-Ton stores (Herberger's, Boston Store, Elder-Beerman and others) that went unsold at the end of last year's spring/summer season.

None of the goods are special-purchase items made specifically for the outlet, store manager Brian Schinke said. "That may change in the future," he added.

Schinke declined to comment on whether the Midway clearance center in St. Paul will remain open, but said that clearance centers are a growth venture for the company. Brennan thinks the Midway clearance department will remain open since outlet-priced goods are a good fit for University Avenue consumers.

Besides the Maplewood outlet, Bon-Ton has two Carson Pirie Scott clearance centers in Chicago and one Boston Store outlet in Milwaukee. The chain has 18 full-line stores in Minnesota, including Roseville, Stillwater, Bloomington, Edina, and Blaine.

Schinke thinks the big draws at the outlet will be women's shoes and home furnishings such as cookware, glassware, bedding and towels. Bon-Ton is also known for piling on additional discounts on selected items. Through Tuesday, the outlet takes an additional 25 percent off apparel and an additional 50 percent off home furnishings and dresses.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633