What has 2.1 million square feet of space, is shaped like an alligator and draws nearly as many annual visitor as Disney World? Sawgrass Mills Mall. What takes a day to walk through, has slow-moving cattle-like crowds and acres of parking lots with no empty space in sight? Sawgrass Mills Mall.
If you've ever walked this behemoth of more than 350 stores and outlet shops, you deserve a medal - and a foot massage. If you've never been, there are a few things you should know before entering the wild world of clearance racks and 2-for-1 sales.
First things first, how do you get there? Sawgrass (12801 West Sunrise Boulevard/954-846-2350), located at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Sunrise Boulevard in Sunrise, is easily accessible from both Miami-Dade and Broward counties via I-595 or the Sawgrass Expressway. It's only 15 miles from Fort Lauderdale International Airport and 30 miles from Miami International Airport. This is a double-edged sword - while it's wonderful that everyone can enjoy the splendor of outlet shopping, you sometimes get the feeling that every flight from a foreign country dumped its passengers on a tour bus headed straight for the mall.
Why endure the throngs of shoppers and seemingly endless stretches of walking while searching for a restroom that never materializes? Because no other mall in South Florida offers this much quality merchandise at such a deep discount. And now with the latest addition to the largest mall in Florida, the Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass, bringing high-end outlet shopping to the masses, it's no wonder the mall is a top destination for tourists and locals alike.
The Colonnade Outlets should be any serious bargain shopper's first stop. The outdoor shops, which opened in 2006, offer everything from Juicy Couture to Burberry and Barneys. Tory Burch, Piazza Sempione and Prada outlets are also located here. Start at one end and stroll your way through the covered walkways of the Mediterranean-inspired facades, feeling as though you're on a discount version of Rodeo Drive.
Allot plenty of time for the Neiman Marcus Last Call Clearance Center (954-846-9777), which sells everything from Juicy Couture t-shirts for men to night-out-on-the-town Theory and Nicole Miller dresses. If you're addicted to shades, you'll find a great display case of designer eyewear at unbeatable prices. How do Ralph Lauren shades for under $45 and Versace shades for under $100 sound? Next hit Cole Haan (954-835-0020) for luxurious, classic shoes and handbags at $100 or more off retail.
Saunter on over to exquisite handbags at Salvatore Ferragamo (954-846-7117). Definitely discounted but still a pricey purchase - for instance, a $1,000 bag may be discounted to $800. With a bag that swank, you'll need shoes to match, so strut a few doors down to Stuart Weitzman (954-837-0822) for sleek pumps and sandals.
If you're like me, you'll spend most of your time and money at the Coach Factory Store (954-837-0298). Right next to Burberry (954-835-1550), it offers the best value in purses and accessories. The store receives daily shipments of out-of-season or discontinued products. Bonus: the store also accepts customer returns of merchandise from the full-priced shops. Finding one of these bags is the real coup here, as the pieces are in season but still deeply discounted. I'm still kicking myself for not purchasing a brown patchwork bag - the only one in the store - when I had the chance.
Usually when a new model comes in, it's priced around $240. But after a few weeks the price drops significantly, and the store often tacks on an additional 20 percent discount. You'll take a gamble waiting for this to happen, because what they have on the floor is their only supply. Once it's gone, it's gone. So if you're really in love with a bag - you caress it, try it on both shoulders, picture yourself creating outfits around it - and need an excuse to splurge, buy it today, because an hour later another lucky shopper may take it home. Oh and don't forget to get the matching wallet, sunglass case, business card holder, pillbox and wristlet. A tip from the sales associate: Fridays and Saturday mornings are the best days to shop Coach, as that's when new items hit shelves.
On the far end of the Colonnade, you'll find Barneys New York (954-331-1260), Juicy Couture (954-846-1247), Theory (954-838-9595) and Kate Spade (954-838-9268). Barneys has a great selection of career separates for women and men as well as handbags and designer shoes. Drown yourself in the sale racks and when you come up for air, you'll have several quality items at not-quite-Old-Navy prices. Known for adorable and colorful terry sweat suits, the Juicy outlet has a large selection but only offers slight markdowns. Cute tees, mostly priced under $30, are the items to snag here.
Time to venture indoors. Here are the stores you shouldn't miss:
1. Off 5th Saks Fifth Avenue - (954-846-7746) All the top brands at bargain-basement prices. This store carries a large selection of designer jeans including True Religion, 7 For All Mankind and Paper Denim & Cloth as well as high-quality suits and formal dresses. Off 5th has been known to run promotions where shoppers who buy one item get any second item in the store at 50 percent off.
2. Banana Republic Factory Store - (954-838-7169) Work and weekend basics for men and women. This store has a large selection of career and weekend slacks, tops, dresses, sandals, even swimsuits (though finding matching tops and bottoms can be a chore). Head to the back of the store and find a treasure trove of final clearance items. You'll think it's Christmas.
3. Kenneth Cole Outlet Store - (954-845-9777) This trendy store tends to have some pricey clothing items but the sweet spot here are the racks of Cole's signature shoes, deeply marked down.
4. Gap Outlet - (954-846-2115) Large store + large discounts = large crowds. You'll inevitably find yourself waiting in long checkout lanes. The good news: while you wait in line, your arms will be full of cheap wardrobe staples soon to call your closet home.
5. GUESS? Outlet - (954-846-2681) This one's for the ladies. Although the store carries some items for men, the selection for women garners all the attention. The elusive "cute top" every woman searches for to pair with her going-out jeans lurks somewhere on a rack here.
6. Ann Taylor Factory Store - (954-846-1326) The perfect spot to freshen up your career wardrobe. Racks and racks of clearance items are at the back of the store.
7. Perry Ellis - (954-851-9516) A store for the sophisticated male. He'll find ties, collared shirts, suit separates and casual wear that scream taste and go easy on the Visa.
8. Nike Factory Store - (954-837-0329) This store offers athletic gear and plenty of it. Wade through table after table of logo tees for just $9.99 and isles full of sneakers, most under $40.
9. Nine West Outlet - (954-846-2586) Last season's great shoe is this store's can't-miss deal. Sandals, pumps, boots, oh my!
10. Fossil Company Store - (954-846-9779) A selection of fun timepieces for a great price. You'll also find hip handbags and belts. What time is it? Time to call your credit card company and ask for a higher limit.
11. Polo Ralph Lauren Children's Factory Store - (954-835-2272) Classic American style for boys and girls at 25 to 45 percent off the original price. It's a great place to score quality essentials for the munchkins in your life.
12. Gucci: This luxe outlet store is a first-in-market outlet location from Gucci. This noteworthy new addition has a temporary location at The Oasis but will move to a permanent location as part of the ongoing expansion of The Colonnade
Outlets at Sawgrass Mills to be completed by early 2013.
13. Ugg Austalia: (954-416-2600) Score some comfy sheepskin Ugg boots at this first-in-market store.
14: Original Penguin: (954-846-9228) This is the only Original Oenguin outlet in Florida so a visit here is a must. Get your paws on the label's modern suits, shirts, tees, hats, ties and shoes at 30 to 70 percent off.
15. Coming Soon: Scoop up highly coveted wrap dresses at the soon-to-open Diane Von Furstenberg outlet. Also coming soon? Robert Graham, Old Navy Outlet and Talbots.
So you know where to spend your cash. Now when to go? Inevitably, weekends are the busiest. But the earlier you arrive, the fewer crowds you will encounter. Head out after breakfast and you'll enjoy a few hours of peaceful shopping. Once the afternoon hits, it's a free-for-all. (Don't say we didn't warn you...) If you go in the evening, you'll still have to wade through the crowds making a night of it at Sawgrass's popular restaurants. Most of the evening rush is in The Oasis, an outdoor section of the mall that houses a Cheesecake Factory and a Regal 23 Cinemas. There is also a Grand Lux Café in The Colonnade section. Your best bet, if you can wiggle out of work, is a weekday trip, optimally early in the week. Is it just me, or do you feel a sore throat coming on?
Whether it's a weekday or weekend, if you want to emerge from Sawgrass with your sanity intact, show up with a patient smile and comfortable shoes. Although there are tons of parking lots, they fill up fast. Some anchor stores, such as the Super Target, open earlier than the actual mall. You may want to park there and get a jump on browsing and shopping. If you want to park in the shade, you'll want to park at the garage outside of Burlington Coat Factory. If you are visiting The Colonnade before the lunchtime rush, park outside the Grand Lux. On a particularly busy day, you can always valet at The Colonnade or The Oasis for just $5. But remember, there can be a long wait for your ride when you're ready to leave.
-Sawgrass is large and vast, so pick a mission for your trip before you go - it's a lot easier to set out in search of a pair of brown pumps than to wander aimlessly, eyes glazing over.
-If you're a first-time visitor and want to find your own favorite stores, set aside a full day and plan to eat one if not two meals at the mall. If you've got a few stores to check on, print our map and plot your itinerary. Set a time limit for each store and keep checking your watch, as it's frighteningly easy to lose track of time while you're in the mall.
-One last tip: only visit stores that are true outlets. Why go to Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, when you can find those in any strip mall? Focus instead on the rare gems. Non-outlet stores include Burlington Coat Factory, Books-A-Million, BrandsMart USA, Rack Room Shoes, Forever XXI, The Sports Authority, Bed Bath & Beyond and Charlotte Russe, to name a few.
Good luck and happy shopping!
Shoppers stroll the Colonnade, a section of high-end outlets at Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise. Photo: Beverly Bidney