LUTZ — Patti Sharnprapai wears a size 5 shoe — a size, she said, that's nearly impossible to find in a traditional retail store.
"The only places that have size 5 are the outlets," the 43-year-old Zephyrhills mom said on a recent afternoon at the Tampa Premium Outlets mall, her arms full of shopping bags.
This holiday season, Sharnprapai and many other local shoppers are rejoicing at being able to take advantage of great deals — and shoe selections — without having to drive to Ellenton or Orlando. And the new mall is attracting shoppers from across the region and state, creating a new customer base for other local businesses and restaurants. All without the Armageddon-like traffic along the State Road 54/56 corridor that some anticipated.
One of those regional visitors was Terry Reynolds, 54, of Haines City. She met her friend from Hudson at the mall because it was a good middle point, and because, Reynolds said, the Orlando outlets are more expensive. The two were shopping for a wedding, but Reynolds said she would return to the Lutz mall for her Christmas shopping.
"The (foot) traffic has exceeded our expectations, and it has continued to be strong," said Sarah Rasheid, director of marketing and business development for Tampa Premium Outlets. "We're very pleased to see how many people have been coming out here to shop. They've been holding lots of bags; our parking lots have been full. All great signs."
While Rasheid said she couldn't disclose sales numbers, she said the mall has been able to carry the momentum it garnered from its Oct. 29 grand opening straight into the holiday season.
Stephanie Adcock, 36, of Land O'Lakes said she's doing about 20 percent of her holiday shopping at the outlets this year.
And the rest?
"I'm an onliner," she said.
Before the opening of the outlet mall, Adcock said, she might have gone to the Shops at Wiregrass, 3 miles down SR 56 in Wesley Chapel, to do her brick-and-mortar shopping. But this year, she said, there's nothing over there she can't find online or at the outlet stores.
However, the outlet mall siphoning off Wiregrass customers seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
"We've been able to complement each other pretty well," said Greg Lenners, general manager of the Shops at Wiregrass. "They have the outlet brand, and we're more of a lifestyle center."
The two malls, for the most part, offer different retail selections. That's why Sharnprapai, having already spent about $500 at the outlets, planned to visit Wiregrass later that afternoon.
She said she visited the outlet mall for "very specific stores, and I'll be going to Wiregrass for very specific stores."
Lenners said malls like Wiregrass generally pull customers from within a radius of 10 to 15 miles. Outlets, though, tend to pull people from within a 50- to 60-mile radius.
That means the shoppers from downtown Tampa who otherwise could have visited WestShore or International plazas might come to Tampa Premium Outlets and also hop over to Wiregrass.
"We're definitely picking up on that regional traffic that would not have come beforehand," Lenners said.
If any of his retailers are feeling the competitive burn from the outlets, Lenners said, it's the apparel stores.
"But then, it comes back to having more people coming to the area," he said. "The extra demographic coming from the larger radius, I think that offsets the potential loss."
However, all of the cars on the road haven't materialized into the chronic standing traffic some skeptics predicted along SR 56 from Wesley Chapel Boulevard past Interstate 75. County and state Department of Transportation officials adjusted the traffic lights at the interstate to alleviate some of the congestion. Pasco sheriff's officials said deputies have not been called upon to direct traffic or respond to any traffic-related incidents in the vicinity of the mall since its opening.
"But this time of year, with any mall, motorists need to expect delays," DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.