Pete Caster / pcaster@chronline.com

Centralia Outlets Celebrate 25 Years

Economic Mainstay: Former Centralia Mayor Describes How Big Retail Helped the Hub City Recover from Financial Downturn

By Amy Nile / anile@chronline.com

When the Centralia Outlets opened 25 years ago, it saved the community from a deep economic downturn, according to Tim Browning, chairman the city’s planning commission at the time.

The failure of the Washington Public Power Supply System, along with losses in mining and logging jobs, left the Hub City struggling.

“We were desperate for any business that could bring jobs to our community,” said Browning, a former Centralia mayor and city councilor. “It was a terrible situation.”

That’s when John Regan stepped in, first bringing antiques to the Hub City then moving on to factory outlet stores.

Regan and Dean Proffitt, a Centralia realtor, purchased the property just off Interstate 5.

Regan spent some $5 million on development, opening the Centralia Outlets in 1988 with its first tenant, London Fog, in the space the Coach store occupies today.

“It gave a glimmer of hope to the community,” Browning said, noting the center brought much needed jobs. “In many ways, the ball’s been rolling ever since.”

An additional six store openings followed, with tenants such as Van Heusen, L’eggs Hanes Bali and Corning-Revere, which still do business in the center.

“It made the entrance to the town look like it wasn’t going to die,” Browning said. “Twenty-five years ago, that was a big deal.”

In addition to new businesses and jobs, the outlets drove tax revenue into the Twin Cities.

The Hub City’s center spurred a retailing trend across the Pacific Northwest with several outlets opening after the Centralia stores.

In 1984, the nation boasted 53 outlet centers. Today, that number has grown to 240 outlet shopping centers across the country.

Centralia Outlet stores now generate about $50 million in business annually, according to Renate Johnson, who has managed the center for the last 14 years.

“When I started, I thought it looked a little run down,” she said.

In 2006, Johnson said, the center started renovating to transform the area to an upscale Northwest style with heavy timbers, stone columns, board-and-batten siding and gable roofs. Incorporated into the plan were widened sidewalks, new lighting, upgraded restroom facilities and enhanced landscaping throughout the center.

Johnson said she aimed to bring in high-end retailers such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Chicos and Eddie Bauer.

“Those are really the creme de la creme of outlet stores,” she said.

Through the years, more outlets have emerged, while others have changed their business models and closed, Johnson said.

Despite the recent economic downturn, Johnson said, the outlets continue to do well.

Today, the outlet shopping area boasts nearly 30 stores.

The center keeps adding new tenants, most recently with Gap. Last month, the outlets signed with New Balance, which will open in mid-August.

Additionally, Johnson said, she is working on leases for one to three new outlets.

“It’s really exciting. The center is doing better than ever,” Johnson said. “It’s big news — 25 years.”

To celebrate its anniversary, Johnson said, the outlets will offer big savings.

The center is featuring anniversary specials online at www.centraliaoutlets.com.

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