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Last week, we made the twice-yearly penance trip to Clark's Village. Clark's Village is the kind of place loved by shopaholics. An "outlet" through which the big high street names offer end of line items and overstock at significant discounts, the place is very popular. This Murphy, however, hates shopping intensely, so for me a trip to Clark's Village is a penance, but a necessary one.
Clark's Village is in Street, Somerset. If you live within an hour's drive of Street, you will have no trouble finding it. It is well signposted by those brown "attraction" signs from most directions and is very easy to locate if you arrive via the M5 leave at J23 and well follow the signs. It will take about ten minutes to get there once you are off the motorway. From the M4 it is J18 or J19, depending on the direction from which you are coming, onto the A39 and again follow those brown signs. Try not to go on Saturdays in high summer season, for you are sure to spend hours behind caravans. An hour's drive can easily turn into two or more hours at peak times in this part of the West Country. I know this to my cost!
We went on a Sunday. I choose Sunday mornings, as soon as the village is open, for it seems to be the least busy time and I cannot bear crowded shops. (Late night shopping until 8pm on Thursdays is ok in the winter, but busy as hell in the summer). I like to arrive as early as possible, at 10am. However, Sunday trading regulations mean that not all the outlets open at that time. Any store over 3,000 square feet there are half a dozen or so of these cannot open until 10.30am and cannot actually sell anything until 11am. You might find this irritating, but I like it. I dash around the smaller shops I need to visit while they are still empty no browsing for Murphys! and am ready to look at the bigger shops just as they open and while they are still empty. Sunday trading laws are ridiculous though.
The main reason for my penance shopping trips to Clark's Village is to buy shoes for my children. The place started out as a single Clark's Shoes factory shop and the mall has grown from there. The Clark's outlet is the largest there, and it offers big discounts on a wide range of their shoes not just the ends of lines. Children's shoes sell at a minimum of 30% off high street price; shoes that retail between £30 and £40 per pair, are generally reduced to around the £20 mark. Ends of line shoes are even cheaper. I paid £15 for Conor and Kieran's autumn term school shoes and £10 for trainers. This was a 60% discount; better prices than I could find anywhere, even at sale times. It is important to get well-made, properly fitted shoes for growing feet and if I bought nothing else at Clark's Village, the trip would be worth it for children's shoes alone. Those items with the biggest reductions may not be available in every size, but the standard reductions seem to cover everyone. Adult shoes are there in plenty and I bought myself a pair of fifty quid walking shoes for £15. The usual Clark's fitting service is available too, although I would advise doing all this before you go, as there are often large queues. The Clark's outlet is definitely the best one in the mall!
There are many more shops here; about eighty, I think. The largest of these are Marks and Spencer and Next, both exceedingly popular and always crowded to an extent that makes me claustrophobic. If you do not mind busy hotness and crowds though, there are also excellent reductions and ranges from which to choose at both places. Next in particular, carry an enormous amount of stock at less than half their high street prices. The merchandising is a mess, everything is higgledy-piggledy and you need the patience to search patience I do not have, I far prefer the genteel quiet of my local Oxfam shop but if you have the patience, you will reap the rewards in terms of bargains.
The majority of the remaining outlets are devoted to clothes. The fashion-conscious will find Calvin Klein, Pilot, Benetton and designer outlets like Prima. The ladeez looking for something to wear to a function will find the likes of Alexon, Windsmoor and Jaeger. There are also many big names in sport and casual wear Levi, Ben Sherman, Lee Cooper, CAT, Adidas and erm yes, people like that. As I buy most of my clothes from charity shops trying to avoid the sweatshops y'see I can't really vouch for how wonderful these places are or the bargains to be had, but they are always jolly busy and the tills always seem to be doing a roaring trade. I can tell you that 501s in SOME sizes were on sale at the Levis shop for a tenner. Each shop has a board outside, advertising the kinds of lines they do whether sale items, overstocks, end of lines etc and by how much you can expect to see the stock reduced.
There are also a number of homeware shops, and this is another reason I go to Clark's Village. I have a thing for pots and pans and there are always great bargains. This time around, I just had to have a le Creuset casserole dish at half its list price and a good third cheaper than even the cheapest place I have seen it on sale. There is a Royal Worcester outlet, a Villeroy and Boche and several other purveyors of good quality kitchenware. Canteens of cutlery from the Oneida shop are always great value. Oh, and there is a Sony outlet, too. This has small reductions you could probably find similar by shopping online but it does have a range of very cheap re-conditioned items with a full year's warranty. There was a computer there this last time that tempted me greatly! Um there's a Cadbury's factory shop AND a Thornton's factory shop. I, of course, spent money in both! You can find the full round up of stores at the Clark's Village website, URL at the end.
The Clark's Village experience is pretty much a horrible one for an anti-shopper like me. It is ALWAYS busy, often horribly crowded. However, as "malls" go, it is better than many. There are gazillions of shops, and they are all recognised brand names. Savings are genuine in most places, unlike many of these types of discount centres where you would not give houseroom to half the tat they are trying to sell. The architecture is hideous: all fake Victorian and er well tacky. However, it is not as hideous as many. It is open air one imagines they were going for the olde-worlde village effect, it being Clark's Village an' all and this makes it seem less crowded and claustrophobic. They have made an effort with bench seating and flowerbeds and that kind of thing. If it is raining, you will not get soaked because there are wide awnings down each "street" allowing for probably four people across. There are plenty of loos and they are always spotless. There are four car parks and plenty of spaces, so even at busy times you do not crawl around and around looking for somewhere to put the car. Three hours parking is a pound hardly extortionate at current standards.
The food is mostly dire and expensive. Take my advice and do not eat in the Food Factory, the largest place with about four different eateries and a central eating area. It is horrid in there expensive, nasty food; hot and sticky; sullen, stupid staff. There is a Starbucks and there are a few stalls selling paninis or baked potatoes, so if it were a sunny day when you visit, I would choose one of these outdoor stalls and sit on one of the benches. They are cheaper and the food is better.
Clark's Village caters for both children and the disabled better than do many other designer outlets. The baby changing rooms are spacious and clean. For older children there is a carousel and a super adventure playground not a token slide or two at all that will keep most kids occupied for at least an hour, while parents take it in turns to watch. There is also a soft play emporium where you can pay a couple of quid to distract them for another hour. We used this once, and while my two had a great time, the adventure playground has enough in the way of entertainment value to break up a morning's shopping for them, so it really was not necessary to spend the money. Clark's Village runs a Shopmobility scheme, which you can book in advance. Wheelchair users will find it a happier place to shop than many for just about the entire place is on ground floor level with no steps up to any shops. Some of the smaller outlets are packed to bursting with stock though, leaving little room for a wheelchair. This is not the fault of the village itself and the majority of places have plenty of room for a disabled person to be able to browse.
Um yes. That's Clark's Village for you. It is full of shops. It is full of discounts. It is full to bursting with people bargain hunting. In short, to me, it is a horrible, horrible place. However, last week, I spent just over a hundred pounds and saved well over another hundred pounds on high street prices for some high quality goods.
Grudgingly, my little consumerists, I recommend it to you.