Robert Sandreth's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted)

Eddyville, KY, is a small western Kentucky town located near the junction of Interstate 24 and the Western Kentucky Parkway. Its significant features include a state penitentuary located there and its status as an eastern "gateway" to the Lake Barkley/Kentucky Lake area, a regional tourist draw and boating/fishing destination.

The first phase of the West Kentucky Factory Outlet Center was built in 1989. It was one of the first true factory outlet centers to pop up in the region, predating the outlet mall "boom". The mall was hailed as a major economic boost for the community. Despite the summer presence of tourists headed to the lakes, Eddyville maintained a "sleepy" feel to it and lacked the kind of attractions that would draw people to spend money there. The mall was expected to be a major draw and, for almost a decade, it was.

It was built in four phases, with the final phase completed in 1996. It was designed to feature 40-50 stores, and was occupied at near-capacity throughout the early- to mid-90's. In terms of stores, it had a very strong outlet lineup: designer apparel, jeans, shoes, knives, kitchen goods, children's clothes, books, etc. A large Polo Ralph Lauren outlet store "anchored" the mall, and it was the only upscale designer label outlet store in the region. In addition to Polo, you had 90's outlet mall staples such as Carter's, Bugle Boy, Chicago Cutlery, and Reebok.

Over that first decade, the mall drew shoppers from a five-state region (Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee). On Saturdays, the mall would bustle with crowds of shoppers and bus tourists. Live music would often be performed from a gazebo stage. For a few years, a regional television show was taped from the mall courtyard. A mini-shuttle train would ferry shoppers from one end of the center to the other. During its heyday, a festive vibe seemed to permeate the place. It was all great fun!

By the late 90's, like many outlet malls, it began to decline. Many of the top-line stores, including Polo Ralph Lauren, pulled out. There were a number of reasons:

1. Paducah, KY (40 minutes west on I-24) and Clarksville, TN (1 hours south/east on I-24) each developed into major retail meccas in the late 90's, with acres of major retailers, catergory-killer stores, hip chain restaurants, and thriving regional malls. Eddyville, with a mere 45 outlet stores and few dining options beyond fast-food, paled in comparison.

2. The mall struggled to attract "casual" travelers from the nearby interstates. Unlike most outlet centers that are visible from the highway (with many of the specific stores cleary viewable from the road), the Eddyville mall is located 1.5 miles away from either I-24 or the WK Parkway. There simply wasn't enough traffic (tourist or otherwise) on the sub-major highway (U.S. 62) that fronts the mall. Despite hopes that the mall would attract companion retail, dining, and other attractions, it never really did. Other than a nearby waterslide/amusement center that attracts patrons from a fairly small radius, there is little reason to drive through Eddyville. The Dept. of Transporation attempted to help, placing huge "WEST KENTUCKY FACTORY OUTLET AVENUE, NEXT EXIT" road signs along the interstates, but decline couldn't be stopped.

3. As the 90's outlet mall boom rolled on, similar, competing outlet malls popped up in nearby southeast Missouri (Sikeston), southern Illinois (West Frankfort), and west Tennessee (Union City). These, of course, eroded the novelty of the Eddyville mall (which was the first of its kind in the region) and ciphoned customers away. Unfortunately, those malls are all suffering similar declines to varying degrees. Also, the development of major factory outlet megacenters in Nashville, TN (2 hours away) and Branson, MO--which draw many of the same tourists--raised the bar in terms of outlet store quantity and variety, making the Eddyville offerings seem less impressive.

4. Unlike many of outlet malls of its era with wide open store fronts allowing parking near stores of choice, this open-air mall features two long strips of stores facing inward toward each other, separated by a fairly narrow outdoor corridor. The design makes it difficult to see which stores are located where, and difficult to park near those of your choice.

Out of 48 avaiable store spaces, only 12 are occupied today. Kitchen Collection, Bon Worth, Walnut Bowls-Chicago Cutlery, L'Eggs-Hanes, Dress Barn, and Rack Room Shoes highlight the offerings. The tenant group has remained fairly stable over recent years, but the summer weekend crowds of the mid-90's are long gone.

New ownership has taken over, and has a plan to revive the property with increased marketing, new tenants, and more events at the mall. It is hoped that when the proposed Interstate 69 is built, which will follow the WK Parkway until it intersects and merges with I-24 at Eddyville, the added traffic of a major national north-south highway will give the center a boost. It will be an uphill battle, but I hope they succeed.

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