Shoppers at Settlers Green

CONWAY  — Once a racetrack and later an airport known for its bi-plane excursion rides, Settlers Green Outlet Village has been a draw for bargain-hunting shoppers and a significant boost to Mount Washington Valley’s tourism-dependent economy.

Originally intended to be a collection of condominiums, a hotel and specialty boutique shops, Settlers Green Outlet Village first opened Feb. 12, 1988.

It quickly changed its model to become a collection of national brand, high-end outlets, along with what is now the North Conway Grand Hotel and a few condominiums.

More than 25 years later, the former airport-turned retail complex is flying high. The clustered, outdoor outlet concept has served the company well, according to OVP Management Inc. retail general manager Dot Seybold and OVP Management Inc. president Robert Barsamian of Newton, Mass.

“Our first tenants were Banana Republic, Brookstone, and shortly thereafter, J. Crew,” said Barsamian in a phone interview with The Conway Daily Sun from his Newton office, “and they are still with us today. We were the first Banana Republic outlet ever, anywhere, and the first Brookstone outlet. So, as the outlet industry was growing, we were able to convert (from the retail concept for Settlers Green), to outlets, even though it didn’t start out with outlets in mind.”

Then and now

Barsamian said he and his sister Lisa and company officials traveled extensively around the country in 1987 to glean retail trend information.

“We wanted to try and find out what was happening in the retail world. The trend that was going on was outdoor shopping plazas. Twenty-five years later,” Barsamian said, “the focus is again on lifestyle centers, so outdoor pedestrianized shopping centers are coming back and are on the drawing board throughout the country now.”

“People like to park once and walk to the stores, even in our winter climate,” said Seybold.

Still about the mountains

Settlers Green has a high-end mix of retail of nationally-known brand outlets, which has been part of the reason for its success.

A component that is just as important as the mix of stores? Mount Washington Valley’s array of outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking, noted Barsamian and Seybold.

They say that another way to look at it is that a lot of areas have mountains or shopping — Mount Washington Valley has ski resorts with year-round activities, along with retailing and dining.

Add to that the specialty shops of North Conway Village and Settlers Green’s outlets, and it becomes clear that there is a symbiotic relationship at work that brings people to the valley.

Some people come to ski or hike — and shop. Others who don’t ski or hike come with friends or family who do. While the more active family members go off to hike, kayak or golf, they go and shop.

It sets the valley — and the shops of the village and Settlers’ Green — apart from other outlet centers closer to urban centers, note Barsamian and Seybold.

“The original concept — of boutique shops — has changed (to name brand factory outlet stores),” said Barsamian, “but the attraction for Settlers Green and our other properties has clearly been about the experience of getting away, of vacationing — and shopping.

“From day one, we wanted to be a destination within a destination,” added Barsamian, whose family company originally ran the cinemas for former Mountain Valley Mall developer/owner Arliss Hill, and whose family has been vacationing in the area for years, long before purchasing the former White Mountain Airport and developing it as Settlers Green. “We always wanted to add to the experience. We never wanted to take away from what North Conway offered — the skiing, the hiking, the mountains.”

Economic impact

Over the years, OVP Management Inc. has added such nearby complexes as Settlers Corner (home to Staples), the site occupied by Home Depot behind Staples (SG Management developed the project and later sold the property, notes Seybold); and Settlers Crossing at the south end of the Route 16 commercial strip. In 2017, they added a fourth location Settlers Green Streetside, whose shops began opening in August.

The main Settlers Green Outlet Village has undergone four expansions since 1988, with the last taking place with the addition of an Old Navy store in 2001, near the North-South Road which opened in 2002. Settlers Green Outlet Village now totals 237,425 square feet of retail space. All told, the Settlers Green, Settlers’ Corner and Settlers Crossing projects total 350,291 square feet, according to an OVP Management Inc. spokesperson. Streetside adds 50,000 square feet of new retail space.

Settlers Green Outlet Village currently has 60 stores. Settlers Corner has Staples along with two new 2017 additions: Home Goods and Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers. Settlers Crossing has 15 stores. Settlers Streetside adds nine new retailers and one new restaurant in its 50,000 square feet of space.

“Since our expansion, we have never fallen below 98 percent,” said Seybold. “It’s a constant effort. We like five-year leases; some are 25-year leases.” Added Barsamian.

Settlers’ Green completed a $1 million upgrade in 2014 at the Outlet Village complex, with a newly upgraded courtyard and playground, along with new roofs, just part of that continual renovation effort.

As for vacancies which have occurred over the years, Barsamian and Seybold share an upbeat outllook.

“We look at vacancies not as a negative, but as an opportunity,” said Barsamian. “We see it as an opportunity to maybe do something better.”

Seybold reported in 2014 that Settlers’ Green’s stores showed an increase of 8 percent in comparative sales in 2012. At that time the company’s 76 stores employed 300 full-time year-round employees, and an additional 300 part-time, seasonal employees. More are expected as new stores in Streetside open.

Competition for the village?

Michael Kline of the North Conway Village Association says Settlers Green’s marketing has dovetailed with the efforts of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber and the North Conway Village Association.

“First and foremost,” said Kline, who frequently lectures on marketing through his Entrepreneurologist consulting business, “we in the village get the benefit that everyone in the valley gets from Settlers Green: They are a major attraction, and shopping is right behind having mountains as a way to bring visitors. They put us on the map for a lot of visitors.”

As Settlers Green does many events to draw in people, the North Conway Village Association has also strived to present events, especially during the holidays with treelighting ceremonies, fireworks and more, with some of those events presented in collaboration with the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber’s Community Celebration partners.

Although some might think the village is in competition with Settlers’ Green, Kline said that’s not the way it plays out.

“We think that visitors like shopping at the outlets, and then they like to come visit the unique local shops in the village and dine in our restaurants,” Kline said. 

Seybold  said she is happy to see the village’s vibrancy.

“We need the whole community to be healthy in order for us to be healthy and successful,” said Seybold.

•••

updated August 2017

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