Saks Off 5th Reopens in Downtown Minneapolis

After nearly a year since closing, Saks Off 5th has returned to downtown Minneapolis. The Saks Fifth Avenue outlet has opened in City ­Center, across the street from its previous location at the intersection of Nicollet Mall and S. 7th Street in what had been known as Gaviidae Common. But how does the new compare with the old? Let’s assess:

The size: The new 40,000-square-foot space features two floors of merchandise, making it slightly larger than its  28,000-square-foot location that anchors the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan. Its previous Gaviidae Common space also was two floors, so the size is comparable.

The space: Because it was housed in the former home of Saks Fifth Avenue—the original Saks closed and was switched to Saks Off 5th in 2004—the previous Off 5th downtown store was decidedly more luxurious. The new version is built out of a former Office Depot, and it looks it: It’s clean, well-organized, and fairly bland, apart from a smattering of neon signage. In a more general sense, Off 5th has undergone what could be considered a downgrade since it was purchased by Canadian department store company Hudson’s Bay Co. in 2013. Richard Baker, Hudson’s Bay’s top exec, told The Wall Street Journal in 2014, “Our outlet stores look too much like department stores. Nordstrom Rack is a mess, and customers love it.” So the company configured them more like the less-than-tidy spaces of typical discounters, with shoes sorted by size, not brand.

The deals: Discounts of 40 to 60 percent were spotted throughout the new store, with a small selection of goods marked at 70 percent off.

The merchandise: The new downtown location includes the same selection of women’s, men’s, and kids apparel, activewear, and accessories as Eagan, but it has a larger selection of shoes and handbags than the Eagan location. Off-price retail is growing faster than any other channel—like Nordstrom Rack and Nordstrom, there are now more Saks Off 5th outlets than actual Saks department stores. So how do they continue to stock all these outlets? Merchandise from Saks Off Fifth’s in-house brand takes up a substantial portion of the new downtown store’s selection, and Off 5th stores also reportedly contain overstock from Lord & Taylor, which Hudson Bay also owns.

Mid-range, contemporary brands are the focus of the women’s and men’s clothing selection. For women, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, Anne Klein, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Boss by Hugo Boss, and Saks Off Fifth’s in-house has a large presence, as did denim from Paige, J Brand, Joe’s Jeans, and 7 for All Mankind. The women’s contemporary section featured racks devoted to Free People, Splendid, Wildfox, C&C California, James Perse, Joie, Theory, Vince, Betsey Johnson, Equipment, BCBGMAXAZRIA, and Helmut Lang. It’s decent stuff, to be sure, but there was nothing particularly high-end to be found.

The women’s shoe section—a favorite haunt of mine at the old location—contained the usual suspects: Stuart Weitzman, Kate Spade, Kenneth Cole, Cole Haan, Nine West, Anne Klein, Coach, Franco Sarto, Michael by Michael Kors, Sam Edelman, and of course, Saks Off Fifth. Gone seem to be the days of true designer scores. Via a quick survey among my Facebook friends on their most memorable deals from the old Off 5th store were astounding. One recalls a pair of hot pink Ferragamo Varina flats at the old Saks Off 5th for $65; another says over the years her best finds included an Acne knit dress for $120, a lot of Alexander Wang for less than $80, and a favorite silk tank for $20. Another friend recalls finding an Opening Ceremony sweater bodysuit for $20 and tons of Chloe, See by Chloe, DVF, Alexander Wang, and Marc by Marc Jacobs. The list goes on: a Valentino jacket retailing for $3,600 marked down to $159; a pair of Gucci sunglasses retailing for $495 marked down to $99; multi-colored patent leather Prada t-straps with a tower heel for $115; Ralph Lauren Collection beaded flapper dress, originally $1,295 purchased for less than $300; a Donna Karan dress that was originally $1,795, also found for under $300; a pair of Tod’s tall leather boots purchased for less than $200 from $950; a long-sleeved Alexander Wang dress, originally $800, purchased for $40; a pair of oxblood platform boots by Opening Ceremony for less than $100; a floor-length black Marchesa evening gown, originally priced at over a $1,000 marked down to $99; a Chloé varsity-style tweed jacket that retailed for well over $1,500 bought for less than $250. And then there are the Miu Miu shearling wedge boots I once bought for less than $100.

On the plus side, there is a decent selection of designer sunglasses and handbags—I spotted a few bags from Alexander Wang, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta, plus a good deal of bags by Zac by Zac Posen, Rebecca Minkoff, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, Valentino, and Coach, and designer sunglasses by Burberry, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ray-Ban. There’s also a nice selection of costume jewelry by Alexis Bittar. And the selection is certainly higher-end than Marshall’s, which is located on the basement level of City Center.

For the guys, it’s fine but nothing to write home about: Hudson and Joe’s Jeans, Penguin, John Varvatos, Dsquared2, G-Star Raw, and Buffalo by David Bitton were in strong supply, in addition to more traditional suiting and workwear from the likes of Perry Ellis, Vince Camuto, Polo Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Boss Hugo Boss, and Robert Graham. (Weirdly, there was also a ton of tacky, bejeweled jeans from Affliction and True Religion—is the Jersey Shore look still a thing?)

The verdict: It’s a win for shopping in downtown Minneapolis, which has suffered substantial blows over the last decade (the loss of Dayton’s, the closings of Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue)—but just barely. It serves as a reminder that downtown retail isn’t what it used to be when it comes to both full-price and discount designer goods. For those seeking high-end deals, I’d suggest instead shopping the locally owned Opitz Outlet and Opitz Annex, which offer discounts of 70 to 90 percent off—as well as a much broader selection of merchandise to choose from, including some very high-end designers. Read more about their just-opened Annex location.

Now open, City Center, 600 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-594-5962,