Shopping on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue is scenic and a fun way to spend a day. But for serious savings, head north—way north—to Minnesota’s Mall of America.
Many people mistakenly write off MOA as a gigantic tourist trap. It’s true, there is an amusement park in the middle of this oversized mall and you’ll often find throngs of tourists roaming the aisles. But I’ve found some remarkable deals there. What’s more, there are 520 stores under one roof, which means you can hit all of your favorites in one trip. You’ll find all the stores you see on the North Shore, plus:
- Bettie Page
- Garage (Canadian-based teenage apparel)
- Gilly Hicks (Abercrombie and Fitch’s entry to lingerie market)
- Peeps & Company (Yep—an entire store dedicated to Peeps!)
The best part: Minnesota does not charge sales tax on clothing or shoes—so I count that as an automatic 10 percent discount off of the prices I would pay for the same merchandise in Chicago. If you’re stocking up on timeless basics or refreshing your entire wardrobe for the season, the tax savings can add up to several hundred dollars. Translation: you can buy the shoes and the bag.
You’d think stores at MOA would inflate prices hoping to catch tourists ready to make impulse purchases, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. During low tourist seasons, I’ve found near-empty stores offering deep discounts. Two steals I still brag about are the Ann Taylor sweater dress I found on clearance for just $9 (it was originally priced around $50) and a beautiful ivory leather Badgley Mischka clutch I scored at Macy’s for just $85—marked down from $285.
MOA is mind-bogglingly large (no, really, there is a roller coaster in the middle of it). If you go unprepared, you may find yourself dazed and fatigued in an hour or two. My strategy for a successful MOA shopping spree starts with a filling breakfast and a comfortable pair of shoes. Wear leggings so you can quickly try on tops and dresses without completely undressing.
It is .57 miles to walk around one level of MOA, so it’s imperative to plan your route. Otherwise, you’ll spend your day walking miles between stores. MegaMall MN is an app you can use to help navigate MOA and keep track of your shopping list ($.99 on iTunes).
I use a lower-tech strategy. I simply print out the mall map and store directory and mark each shop I want to visit on the map I follow my route systematically to avoid wasting time zig-zagging back and forth across the massive mall. I usually spend a full eight hours shopping at MOA, and can make it to about 15 stores. Always on my must-visit list are Nordstrom Rack, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Remember to search the web for printable in-store coupons before you shop.
You’ll definitely work up an appetite during an MOA shopping trip. Luckily, you’ll find at least 50 restaurants. I like to refuel halfway through the day with a quick veggie burger at Johnny Rocket’s. For a relaxing post-shopping meal, try Twin City Grill, a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant that specializes in steak and seafood. I usually order the roasted mushroom flatbread or the Parmesan and garlic-crusted. Then I sit back with a glass of wine and calculate the amount of money I saved on my tax-free shopping spree.
How to go: Search the web and you’ll find a multitude of daily flights to and from Minneapolis, with the mall just 12 minutes away by train. If you’d rather make a weekend of it, the mall website offers package information for local hotels and weekend getaways.
Photo: Shopping! by Bigstock