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5 takes on shopping across the U.S.

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posted October 2, 2019

Shopping is a way for travelers to take a destination home. A piece of it, anyway.

Every shopping experience can have a local feel, whether it’s a busy center with locations across the country, a specialty food production company, luxe boutiques, a collection of hometown shops, or outlets with both familiar stores and retailers exclusive to the area.

There’s much to be said about discovering items created by Native American tribes whose rich heritage influences the region. There’s also something special about visiting a shopping center with multiple locations; each one is different from the next as they claim an integral part of a destination’s shopping experience.

These NTA-member shopping attractions offer up all things handcrafted, name brand, luxury, hard-to-find, and, well ... cheesy.

Snowy Madison Avenue
Shopping along New York's Madison Avenue (Photo by Julienne Schaer)

Madison Avenue Business Improvement District
New York City

Madison Avenue, extending from East 57th Street to East 86th, is tell-tale NYC. From flagship stores of the most revered designers to art galleries and elegant five-star hotels, it’s the largest shopping destination in North America—and one of the most lavish.

The Madison Avenue Business Improvement District is the not-for-profit public and private partnership representing the area’s businesses. President Matthew Bauer says a visit to Madison Avenue can easily be included in any New York itinerary, as it’s located just a short walk from the city’s most popular attractions.

“Luxury brands have flocked to Madison Avenue because it’s located at the center of the most affluent and desirable residential neighborhood in Manhattan: the Upper East Side,” he says.

The district is home to boutiques housed in historical, mid-19th-century buildings that feature designers’ full collections. Shoppers can find brands like Givenchy, Hermès, Prada, and Balenciaga, as well as more than 40 sidewalk cafés and restaurants with tastes from renowned chefs, from light fare to fine cuisine. The nightlife on Madison Avenue—a dazzling display of cabaret and jazz performances and cigar lounges—helps NYC live up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps.

For operators focusing on luxury stores, Madison Avenue BID recently launched exclusive shopping experiences titled ‘Madison Avenue Preferred Privileges,’ where shoppers can visit 75 participating boutiques and receive high-service amenities, including:

  • Personal greetings by store managers
  • Private shopping, before or after regular store hours
  • An appointment with an in-store personal shopper or stylist
  • Complimentary refreshments
  • In-hotel fashion consultations
  • Complimentary delivery of purchases to their Manhattan hotel

Some of the participating retailers are Barneys New York, Christian Louboutin, Marc Jacobs, and Stella McCartney.

“Madison Avenue is the exclusive NYC member of the USA Luxury Shopping Consortium, and tour operators can create and download a customizable voucher, the ‘Luxe Pass,’ for the Madison Avenue Preferred Privileges program via the consortium’s website,” Bauer says.

For more information, email Bauer or go to

Macerich Shopping Centers in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Place (Photo by Macerich)

Macerich Shopping Centers
17 U.S. cities

Macerich Shopping Centers & Fashion Outlets are bustling hives of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues situated in the hearts of major U.S. cities.

“We’re very focused on providing an all-inclusive experience with the most desired name-brand stores and chef-driven cuisine, as well as major art installations, exhibits, museums, and pop-up shops,” says Kate Birchler, assistant vice president of tourism marketing.

Each of Macerich’s 17 locations are welcoming to motorcoaches. Coordinated, complimentary meet-and-greets are standard, and groups get a savings pass with up to $750 in offers from participating retailers and directional maps. At specific locations, operators can request the Motorcoach Driver & Guide Incentive Program that rewards loyal business, Birchler says.

The U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office research shows shopping is the No. 1 activity for international visitors, she says, which inspires the company to offer group programs that include wardrobe consultations, fashion shows, and dine-arounds, as well as other tailored experiences.

“We can customize a shopping experience based on the groups’ interest, whether that be a friendly meet-and-greet upon arrival, a behind-the-scenes tour, or private in-store shopping event,” Birchler says.

Here’s what’s new at Macerich Shopping Centers:

  • Opened on Sept. 19, Fashion District Philadelphia includes three blocks of shopping, art and culture, dining, and entertainment connected to Reading Terminal and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
  • Chandler Fashion Center in Phoenix added the Crayola Experience, a hands-on art space designed for families.
  • Scottsdale Fashion Square has undergone a major redevelopment to its luxury wing with the addition of new retail space, and seven new restaurants will soon open there, including Nobu. Wonderspaces, an area with nationally recognized artists in rotating exhibits, also is new.
  • Recently opened at Santa Monica Place is Cayton Children’s Museum, an immersive play space with numerous exhibits and programs designed to teach children about core universal values.

For more information, reach out to Birchler or go to

Shoppers at Slopeside Apparel & Gifts
Shoppers at Slopeside Apparel & Gifts (Photo by Ober Gatlinburg)

Ober Gatlinburg
Gatlinburg, Tennessee

One of the most distinctive parts of the shopping experience at Ober Gatlinburg is how you get there—and the view going up.

The Aerial Tramway transports visitors to the mountaintop shops where they are surrounded by the incredible sights of the Smokies. The tram departs downtown Gatlinburg and ascends high above the city, landing at the amusement park and ski area.

Groups can find a blend of locally crafted items and commercial pro gear, all of which tell stories of the region and its people, according to Marketing Assistant Elissa Breitenstein.

“This area of the Smoky Mountains is known for the Appalachian and Cherokee heritage, moonshine, and hiking the Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many of the items in our shops reflect the cultures and heritage in the area, such as the moonshine candles found at Tramway Gifts and the Native American flutes and jewelry in The Silver Galleon,” she says. “Ober Gatlinburg has been here for more than 57 years and is a family-owned, family-friendly company. We offer shopping opportunities in a unique, historic setting as well as a variety of seasonal activities.”

Ober Gatlinburg is home to the state’s only ski area in the winter, and two of its shops, Slopeside Apparel & Gifts and Ski Mountain Outdoors, change inventory seasonally and carry names like Columbia, Under Armour, and Keen. The latter sells hiking and camping gear in the summer and carries skis, snowboards, and other winter gear in the colder months. Year-round, visitors can find an ice skating rink at the center of the mountain mall.

Breitenstein says they offer generous discounts for groups of 15 or more for the Aerial Tramway and for other activities. There’s also free bus parking at the downtown location. The company’s shops and the tram are ADA accessible.

Here’s a sampling of the shops to be found at Ober Gatlinburg:

  • Beer Necessities stocks collectible, authentic beer steins, mugs, pint glasses, and other festive, German-themed merchandise.
  • Pepper Palace is the hot spot to find salsas, spices, seasonings, hot sauces, dressings, dip mixes, rubs, and more.
  • Chocolate Monkey serves up ice cream, giant candy and caramel apples, fudge, and truffles.
  • Green River Gallery offers nature photography; photos printed on slate, stone, and wood; and other keepsake items.

A celebration of the region’s German roots occurs each year during Ober Gatlinburg’s OktOBER Fest. For more information, email Breitenstein or go to

Michigan’s largest food court at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
Michigan’s largest food court is at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets. (Photo by Great Lakes Crossing Outlets)

Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
Auburn Hills, Michigan

With an impressive 185 stores, restaurants, and attractions making up the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, shoppers can discover things they can’t find anywhere else in Michigan.

The largest enclosed outlet mall in the state, Great Lakes Crossing is packed with on-trend brands as well as 25 stores and attractions that shoppers can find only there, including the Shinola, Disney, and Swarovski outlets, and SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium.

“A preferred retail destination among local and international travelers, the shopping center received the TripAdvisor 2018 Certificate of Excellence for earning outstanding consumer reviews,” says Marketing and Tourism Specialist Kristen Old.

The center features stores like Steve Madden, H & M, T.J. Maxx, and dozens of others that offer men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and jewelry, health and beauty products, and electronics. Visitors can dine in Michigan’s largest food court or in one of the four full-service restaurants. A fifth restaurant will open by the end of the year.

“We are easily accessible from the state’s busiest freeway (I-75) and are located between two exits with a mile of freeway exposure. We are only 30 miles north of Detroit and 50 miles south of Frankenmuth, making Great Lakes Crossing Outlets an easy add-on experience,” Old says.

Registered groups receive a Passport to Shopping discount booklet with coupons from more than 100 participating stores, eateries, and attractions. Group leaders and drivers receive a $5 gift card to a participating restaurant of their choice.

For more information, email Old or go to

Hilmar Cheese Visitor Center
A wide selection of cheeses is available at the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center. (Photo by Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center)

Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center
Hilmar, California

The Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center’s Denise Skidmore has this advice to give: “No one should ever shop hungry!”

When groups visit the attraction in Hilmar, California, they can grab lunch at the café that serves up, of course, some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches as well as espresso, ice cream, and its famous cream cheese brownie and cheese pie—better than cheesecake, Skidmore says.

The gift shop is a treasure trove of cheeses: from Hilmar-made products to California Farmstead cheese and other unique cheeses from around the world. Visitors can discover local beers and wines that pair with their cheese selections and local gourmet foods like jams, crackers, and meats.

“We have farmhouse gifts and a wonderful kids section. We also offer a unique collection of items for the holidays,” Skidmore says. “We have friendly staff ready for groups. And, for the non-shopper, there are exhibits and a movie about how cheese is made.”

She says the visitor center is a unique comfort stop—as opposed to a chain location—for those traveling from the Bay Area to Yosemite, or along Highway 99 in California’s Central Valley.

“We are a value-added stop, as there is no admission cost and tours are free. Every guest loves free cheese samples, especially ‘squeakers,’ which are fresh cheese curds. We are the only place in the world (where guests can) watch employees package the ‘big cheese,’ a 640-pound block of cheese, and we also have the largest hand-painted dairy mural in the world,” Skidmore says.

And during the holidays, the company offers ready-to-purchase gift boxes and baskets in the store as well as online. Groups can book a gift-basket-making activity, too.

“We provide the basket, sizzle, cello, and bow. The guests fill the baskets, and our experts show them how to position items and wrap them up for the perfect gift. We also have beautiful holiday decorations up from Veteran’s Day through Christmas. It looks like a winter wonderland,” she says.

For more information, email Skidmore or go to

Photo by ©Odua Images/Adobe Stock


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