When Potomac Mills opened in 1985 just off Interstate 95 in Woodbridge, it was the largest outlet mall in the nation. (It also had an Elvis Presley Museum.) In 1986, Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea opened its second American store at Potomac Mills, and Washingtonians jumped into their minivans and headed over for its low prices, DIY assembly and clean, modern Scandinavian design.
Today, Potomac Mills is still really big: 1.6 million square feet and more than 220 stores. But the retail mix keeps changing, and you can no longer check out Elvis’s pajamas. In 2001, Ikea left the mall and moved to a separate building across the street, twice the size of the original store.
There is clearly more to wear at Potomac Mills than to put in your living room. Yet, it is a worthwhile destination for a home furnishings treasure hunt. The walkable nature of the indoor mall makes it an entertaining, climate-controlled venue that can yield bargains for almost every room in the house. As you stroll the different “neighborhoods” (there are five), you’ll come across familiar discounters that stock designer bedding, bathroom accessories, occasional furniture, lighting and other home accessories: Marshalls/ HomeGoods , Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth , Burlington Coat Factory and T.J. Maxx among them. There are several kitchenware stores such as Kitchen Collection and Corningware/ Corelle . You’ll also get a workout: One loop around the mall is about two miles.
Potomac Mills has a global reputation, according to general manager Andrea Spessard. She says more than 40 percent of the mall’s customers come from outside the Washington area, and many are international. Foreign travelers often buy a large suitcase from one of the mall’s four luggage stores and fill it with new stuff as they roll it around.
And there’s more to see outside. The streets around Potomac Mills are lined with strip shopping centers housing just about every chain store you’ve ever heard of. So bring a list of errands and cross them all off in one trip.
All stores are at 2700 Potomac Mills Cir., Woodbridge, except for Ikea.
This location of the Neiman Marcus discount spinoff has a particularly large selection of high-end furniture, decorative accessories and gifts, according to Ginger Reeder, a vice president at Neiman Marcus Group Services. Reeder says home furnishings are bought specially for the outlet by a buyer who “negotiates discounts directly from home vendors.” The department is well displayed and organized. I saw a huge metal lantern for $150, a tall lamp with a French linen shade for $125 and a stunning faux fur throw for $285. Some pieces are marked with original prices: a chic mirrored cabinet ($1,200 marked to $852); a black velvet nailhead sofa ($5,250 to $4,400); a teak chaise ($1,010 to $799). There were signs in some areas saying “30 percent off last price.”
The Rack, as this off-price Nordstrom spinoff is called, opened in 1990 and was the first East Coast location for what is now a 127-store chain. Its 46,000 square feet make it one of the largest Racks in the country. There is no furniture for sale, but you’ll find designer bedding, towels, serving pieces and tableware, plus gifts and home accessories. I spotted great-looking Lacoste beach towels ($17.77), margarita glasses ($4.97) and Calvin Klein pillows ($11.97). According to Nicole Munson, a Nordstrom Rack spokeswoman, merchandise is brought in from Nordstrom’s full-line stores, the Nordstrom Web site (www.nordstrom. com) and special purchases from vendors. Several times a year, “clear the Rack” sales offer further markdowns; the next one is Aug. 27 to Sept. 2.
On a budget and in search of a major appliance? If you’re not that picky (washers or refrigerators might have scratches or dents or be reconditioned) you can find significant savings. According to Joe Kaminski, vice president and general manager for Sears Outlet Stores, items at the outlet, which also sells home and garden products, mattresses and some clothing, are 20 to 70 percent off retail prices. Merchandise might be discontinued, overstock or slightly damaged, or it might be new in the box. In September it will add furniture. A few things I saw recently (unfortunately, not all merchandise is marked with an original price): a Nordic Track elliptical machine ($599); a black cushy desk chair ($47.88); a Kenmore washer (originally $949 for $563); a Frigidaire stainless fridge (originally $999 for $649). Ask a salesperson to explain why items are there and what warranty they come with. Look for “Crazy Deals” on small kitchen appliances or power tools.
Ikea (2901 Potomac Mills Cir.)
When the 2014 Ikea catalogue hit local mailboxes a few weeks ago, it was the annual signal to head over for a look at the latest from Scandinavia. This is not only a place to buy reasonably priced modern furniture and accessories, it’s an idea laboratory full of inspiration for kitchen design, room layouts, accessories and organizing tricks.“Ikea is like Pinterest live for people,” says Jacqueline DeChamps, Ikea Woodbridge store manager. There are now 38 Ikea stores in the United States. It’s difficult to just dash in for one particular thing: There are more than 10,000 products. You can tell yourself you came in to buy a bookcase, but soon enough you’ve picked up a giant yellow shopping bag and are tossing in 36-packs of tea lights ($2.99) and a Gurli throw ($12.99).
MOST TEMPTING DEAL
At the Potomac Mills Tommy Bahama Outlet, classy bar accessories (original prices $48-$128) were marked 33 percent off. They included a sleek teak tray with nautical handles, a stylish metal ice bucket and a pewter marlin letter opener.
There are lots of inexpensive places to eat. Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace is a recent addition to the food offerings at the mall. I endorse its Crunchburger (double American cheese and crumbled potato chips) and the black-and-white milkshake. You could choose the healthier salmon entre at the Ikea restaurant, where on Tuesdays kids younger than 12 eat free with purchase of an adult meal.
Driving is the way to go. Potomac Mills has 8,000 free spaces, and Ikea has 1,024. The closest Metro station is 13 miles away. If you take the Blue Line to the Franconia-Springfield stop on weekdays, the PRTC OmniRide provides transportation to Potomac Mills on the Prince William Metro Direct bus from the station. (On weekends, a cab is the only option from the Metro station.)
The Potomac Mills guest services counter sells a coupon book of discounts for $3. Potomac Mills Super Sales are held several times a year: The next one is Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. Get more insider tips as part of the Simon Mobile Shopper Club or Mall Insiders at www. potomacmills.com.
Join the Ikea Family loyalty program at kiosks in the front of the store. Benefits include monthly discounts and free coffee or tea every day in the restaurant, plus 30 minutes extra during non-peak periods for your kids at Smaland, the supervised play area.