By Jay Lloyd

Everyone likes a bargain. Factories like to sell a lot of products to as many people as possible. And so, the shopping outlet was born. Eager shoppers see price plunges at brand stores that spell luxury – Coach, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein – and all of the mid-range brands that emblazon shopping bags across the nation. Here’s where to find them just in and beyond the Philadelphia suburbs. – Jay Lloyd

The granddaddy of outlet shopping in our region is an easy drive on Route 422 to Reading and the VF Outlet Center. Over four decades ago, I first went to Reading to stock up on Wrangler Jeans rather than pay store prices at the mall. Today, VF still features $7 jeans, but it’s also grown by leaps and bounds to encompass some of the biggest mainstream brands in America. Need a power tool? There’s Black and Decker. For some solid, knock-around shoes, you have Bass. Reasonably priced shirts? Van Heusen. You get the idea. Here, there is outfitting for men, women and kids at prices that will leave your budget unscathed. Check out the website for frequent sales and coupon deals.

Why quibble about 40 miles? That’s the distance between Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, a magnet for bargain shoppers. Would you believe there are no less than 25 shoe stores within the borders of the Philadelphia Premium Outlet complex? The number of shops with familiar names grouped to compliment each other is stunning. On a recent visit, I hit GoldToe socks, Merrell, bought a shirt at JoS. A. Bank (to accommodate a growing neck size), and J.Crew for a younger look. You’ll find sales on top of sales here.

The Crossings, related by marriage to Philadelphia Premium Outlets, literally sits in the shadow of the popular Camelback Ski Resort. With snow still on the mountain, it’s possible to combine a day on skis and snowboards with an evening of shopping. Pump your legs on the slopes and create a mental image that gravitates toward a plethora of Levi’s and Lacoste, Brooks Brothers women’s classic styles and the soaring sounds of Bose speakers. It’s all there at The Crossings inside nearly 100 stores set under familiar marquees. For the 50 and over crowd, a Tuesday stop nets an extra 10% discount. For scads of sales and in-store promotions, click here.

And, since you’re in the Poconos, overnight accommodations are minutes away at the Chateau, right at the base of Camelback. Dining in Tannersville is varied and worth an overnight stay, too—try Smuggler’s Cove or the Tannersville Inn.

A pleasant drive through Pennsylvania Dutch Country right off Route 30 sets your shopping sights on the Tanger Outlets, located just outside Lancaster. You can add a little sparkle to the shopping list here at a rare diamond outlet. A girl’s best friend is also on sale at Zale’s, along with a shop full of stylish Movado watches and the primping materials offering at a Bath and Body Works outlet. Many of the nation’s top brands in clothing, shoes, luggage and cookware compete side by side. Outlets like Tanger offer opportunities to compare popular names for price, look and quality. But since a bargain tag price is never enough these days, deeper Tanger store cuts can be found here.

Plus, Dutch Country is another one of those spots that invite over-nighting. The outlet is practically next door to the Lancaster Host Resort and Golf Course.

Combine history and outlet shopping at Flemington in central New Jersey. It was here that America’s “Trial of the Century” took place in 1935. In the center of town, you’ll find the courthouse that became the national focus of attention for the trial of Otto Hauptmann in the kidnap-murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby. Later, a stop at Liberty Village to roam among 40 well appointed stores that offer deep discounts on some of the best known clothing brands – Calvin Klein, J.Crew, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger. As a fan of one-pot dishes, I can’t pass up Le Creuset for cookware and pot lids that weigh more than my car but guarantee a robust blending of flavors. Liberty Village also offers an extra 10% discount every Tuesday for those who have reached the half-century mark. You can find all the current in-store sales here.

(Credit: Jay Lloyd)

Outlet shopping, a waterfront walkway and tempting dining options are combined on the Wilmington Riverfront. The complex includes an art center, theater, restaurants, a walking trail and a unique selection of restaurants ranging from the funky fun of Joe’s Crab Shack to the dependable Iron Hill Brewery and upscale offerings at Harry’s, a longtime local favorite. With just ten stores, The Shipyard Shops are compact by outlet standards, but offer a rare L.L. Bean outlet store along with Coldwater Creek and variety of nationally known names. Shopping here yields another advantage in addition to deep discounts: Delaware is free of sales tax, so what you pay for the product is all you pay.