For some of us older people the opening of Chesterfield Mall signaled the beginning of Chesterfield as many know it today. The mall was built long before there was a city. Before the mall there was nothing along Clarkson Road and going northeast you had to drive to Olive Street Road and Fee Fee Road to find a shopping center.
In fact there really was not much of anything west of Chesterfield Mall in the early 1970s. The area now known as Chesterfield Valley was then known as Gumbo or The Gumbo Flats. All that was there were several farms, the Smokehouse, an airport and the County Jail.
No one would build homes or businesses there because it flooded.
For two decades Chesterfield Mall was the symbol for Chesterfield, much like the City Hall is today.
So when the talk came up about not one but two developers wanting to put up outlet malls in Chesterfield Valley just a couple of miles from Chesterfield Mall it was surprising.
It used to be to get to an outlet mall in Missouri you had to drive three hours from St. Louis or Kansas City to the Lake of the Ozarks. Then some outlet stores went in along I-70 in Warrenton. They were popular for a while, but then disappeared. They were still more than an hour out of St. Louis and three hours from KC.
When I lived in Maryland there were two areas for outlet stores. One was on the way toward the ocean on the Eastern Shore for Baltimore folks. For the Washington DC crowd it was first in Martinsburg, West Virginia and then Hagerstown, Maryland. Each mall was at least a 90-minute drive from a major city.
There is a difference between say Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack versus true outlet stores. Nordstrom proudly has the low-price Rack stores within blocks of its major store, starting with their original store in Seattle. The Rack stores sell discounted merchandise that was not moving at the nearby main Nordstrom stores and not merchandise that competes with the main stores.
An outlet store will sell exactly the same item currently being sold at large department stores for less. Originally manufacturers did not want to compete with their department store clients at the malls and had outlet stores hours away. That is apparently changing.
I have to wonder if the fact that Chesterfield is forced to be part of the County’s sales tax pool instead of a point of sale city makes the decision easier allowing in the outlets.
If outlet stores are stealing sales from the big department stores doesn’t it all come out even? For the City of Chesterfield, all the sale tax money goes into the pool and is split up between Chesterfield and poorer North County municipalities.
I am for free enterprise, competition and definitely for me saving a buck. I go to Walmart to save $1 an item or more over the supermarkets, while still going to Dierbergs, Schnucks, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for meat and produce.
We are not talking about strip clubs, “Adult Bookstores” or Lingerie stores that are racier than Victoria’s Secret, but retail stores that have every right to exist.
“Can you put a retail store on that site is the question, not can you allow outlet stores,” said Mike Geisel, Chesterfield’s Director of Planning and Public Works.
However, something feels strange to see the city allowing outlet malls in that could seriously hurt Chesterfield Mall.
It wasn’t that long ago when Crestwood Plaza advertised “Go to Crestwood Plaza where the big stores are.” The big stores are no longer anywhere near the City of Crestwood.