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Woodbury’s Anything but Common


In the course of interviewing experts for this month’s open-air report, I heard two admiring references to Woodbury Common. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the Simon Premium Outlet center used as an exemplar of traits modern retail should strive for — things like great customer experience, well-curated stores, and good food. I thought it time that I take a drive up to Orange County, N.Y., and see what all the fuss was about.

And what a drive. It was scenic, to be sure, but an hour and a half from the New York City border. Leasing notices for retail centers love to point out a property’s nearness to major thoroughfares, town centers, tourist attractions, etc. But Woodbury Common’s somewhat isolated sylvan location, hard on the proving grounds of West Point, is a testament to its enduring retail viability.

It was a Thursday morning in January when I descended the driveway to the storied center (another odd feature for a retail venue: no street-front visibility) expecting a big, empty parking lot. It was, instead, half full, crowded with buses as well as cars. It would soon be clear to me that Woodbury Common is an attraction itself, with a worldwide following. Staff members at the Visitor Center speak a total of 14 languages, including Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic, Tagalog, and French Creole.

Woodbury Common’s general manager David Mistretta and director of marketing Stephanie Johnson greeted me in the recently completed Market Hall, an expansive embarkation, dining, and gathering facility.

“We wanted to upgrade our food and beverage offerings and give customers a central meeting space,” said Mistretta, who declined to tell me the cost of the building or of the huge, rotating video screen at the Market Hall’s center, dispensing retailer ads along with news and weather.

Woodbury Common is a lot like Tom Brady. It’s not enough for it to be the best. It has to keep being the best, and the Market Hall with its natural lighting, ample comfortable seating, charging stations, and food from Chipotle, Pret A Manger, and Pinkberry fairly screams customer experience. What amazed me most, though, was that a developer would build this big and beautiful a space without placing retail stores inside of it.

I received my next Woodbury revelation when we began touring the property and I noticed a small bus terminal. It turned out the cars in the parking lot didn’t account for everybody trekking to seek bargains at Burberry, Neiman Marcus, Prada, and Saint Laurent. Woodbury receives a steady flow of buses from points within its significant market radius, including seven daily buses departing New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and nine returning.

A recent renovation borrows from the theme park playbook, breaking the center up into districts evoking the natural and architectural flavors of five New York regions: the Adirondacks, the Hamptons, Saratoga, Niagara, and, of course, the Hudson Valley.

It’s all part of a three-year renovation program on the part of Simon Premium Outlets designed to keep the luster in its crown jewel, and the improvements weren’t all cosmetic. A new ring road was constructed around the property and the restroom count doubled.

So if you haven’t been to Woodbury Common lately, make the lovely drive and see what’s happening at the highest levels of retail property management. Don’t miss the upgrade that impressed me most (and I’m sure you won’t). Those restrooms! How do they keep them so spotless and smelling like spas at a five-star hotel on a blustery winter’s day in upstate New York?

Al Urbanski

[email protected], @AlUrbanski (Twitter)

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