On Oct. 20, the Outlets of Des Moines marks its first year in operation. We checked in with the Altoona outlet shopping center’s general manager, TJ Just, on where things are and what might be coming in the future.

How is everything going?
We are very excited to be close to our one-year anniversary; Oct. 20, 2017, was our grand opening. We have opened over nine stores this year. Things are coming along, really. Leasing continues to be strong, and we’re very excited for the future, not only for the Outlets of Des Moines but this whole area, the Shoppes of Prairie Crossing. I think it’s just going to continue to grow and prosper. … We’re very happy with our first year.

What’s coming up in 2019?
I think the big thing is more stores. Our leasing department is constantly talking to more stores.

A lot of the requests [from customers] are Gap, J Crew, Banana Republic, Coach, Kate Spade, those kind of retailers. Our goal is to be 100 percent occupied and to have a nice variety or mix of retailers. We just did the deal with Chocolaterie Stam. We really like to add that local and regional flair to our centers. … We really like to diversify our tenant mix and not just be a cookie-cutter type of outlet center.

What have been challenges in the last year?
This is brand-new. With that you don’t have the history and the procedures and ways of doing things in place. It’s been a big learning curve for myself and my staff. I think everyone has handled it very well. We are still learning. We will for several years. … With Polo opening next week and the barricades coming down, the center will be a different project. That’s a challenge, and we’re excited. Forever 21 will open in late November or early December sometime. It’s a very exciting time going into the holidays.

Retail has struggled nationally. Are the Outlets feeling any of that?
If you look at it on the national scale, a lot of growth is in the value category, and the retailers are performing well for us. … These are the type of projects that they are looking for. It’s definitely a fit, and it’s paying off. You see it in the number of tenants that we’re going to open by the end of the year.

I think what sets us apart here is that we’re the value center in the market. But our customer is the east Polk, north Polk customer that doesn’t want to drive out west to shop. We kind of have the best of both worlds for the east Polk and north Polk customers. They get to come out at a value price point and really enjoy themselves with the experience. That’s why we feel we’re so successful when some of the other centers in the market are struggling.

The Younkers closing has certainly been a big headline for the statewide retail industry.

The department store consolidation has been going on for how long now? It’s been quite a while. It’s been difficult.

When we last talked, you had mentioned wanting to get involved in the community. Have you been able to do that?
We are very much an active member of the Altoona Chamber of Commerce. For a lot of our events we try to piggyback a charity component to them. We try to get involved with the activities with the Southeast Polk school system. … We definitely want to continue that. It’s definitely hard to get the time to do that.

What’s one thing you’d like the business community to know?
The big thing is is to continue to come out and check us out. There’s so much happening out here. Hy-Vee is under construction out here. Burger Shed and the Hilton hotel will be starting construction. This area is really starting to take off. … This is becoming a great destination for Des Moines.

Do you shop out there while you are at work? It seems like you’d be in a great spot.
Not really. My wife seems to do plenty of that for us without me having to do it. [He picked up items before school started, he said.]


New stores in 2018
    American Eagle
    Lucky Brand 
    Michael Kors 
    Old Navy Outlet
    Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store
    Game Day Outlet
    Chocolaterie Stam
    Forever 21 (November 2018)
    Christopher & Banks


Occupancy:
The mall is now 75 percent occupied, the Des Moines Register reported recently. New England Development, the Boston-based company that built and operates Outlets of Des Moines, would like to see that increase to between 90 and 95 percent.