Sure, red maple leaves and weathered barns are nice enough, but for serious shoppers, New Hampshire’s classic fall vistas are just photogenic backdrops for the star attraction—hundreds of factory outlet stores, made even more enticing by the state’s lack of sales tax.
Outlet shopping was born in the Northeast when factories made seconds and overruns available to employees in company shops. Eventually, these stores opened to the public and shoppers began traveling to seek out the bargains. By the 1980s, developers were building entire malls full of outlets—most often in locations that were remote enough not to compete with metropolitan area stores but not so isolated as to be off the tourist map. New Hampshire was a perfect fit.
These days, outlets sell both in-season and past-season merchandise—and some also carry goods made specifically for the off-price shops. For added discounts, be sure to look online before you go, or visit the mall’s information office.
This historic village on the Maine border first attracted tourists in the late 1800s when a new rail line brought adventurous Bostonians north to take in the mountain air and the inspiring Mount Washington Valley views. Later, skiers arrived on “snow trains,” eager to try out the new sport at what were some of the country’s first lift-served ski areas. Long-distance passenger rail service eventually ended, but the arrival in the 1970s of the Conway Scenic Railroad, which operates vintage train tours in the valley, brought new life to the line’s grand old Victorian train station—and to the town.
Another major draw debuted in 1988, when a cluster of factory outlet stores called Settlers’ Green opened on the site of the defunct airport, just south of the village center. North Conway caught on as a shopping destination, and dozens more outlets popped up along Route 16.
Settlers’ Green Outlet Village has 60 stores, including Nike, New Balance, J. Crew, Talbots, Gap, Coach and Brooks Brothers, plus regional favorites, like April Cornell, a Vermont-based line of women’s apparel and linens known for its colorful Indian print cottons; and Stonewall Kitchen, the Maine specialty food maker. The landscaped courtyard also serves as a town square, hosting seasonal events, like a vintage car show in early September and a pumpkin festival later in the month.
Lunch Break: Big Dave’s Bagels & Deli, a few minutes from Settlers' Green, is a favorite for classics like overstuffed Reuben sandwiches, tuna melts and macaroni salad, all made by a transplanted New York deli owner
Conveniently located just off Route 93, Tilton is a gateway town both for visitors heading to the state’s central Lakes Region, which includes the 21-mile long Lake Winnipesaukee, and for those heading north to the high peaks of Franconia Notch State Park.
Tanger Outlets, at Exit 20, has more than 40 shops, including Polo Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, Loft, J. Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, G.H. Bass & Co., Old Navy, Justice and Yankee Candle.
Lunch Break: Across from Tanger Outlets is the always busy Tilt’n Diner, a fun faux '50s spot serving classic comfort food, frappes, homemade pies and breakfast all day.
The newest addition to the shopping scene—and the state’s largest and most upscale outlet center—is Merrimack Premium Outlets, which opened in June 2012 in suburban Merrimack, near the Massachusetts border. Among its 100-plus shops are Elie Tahari, Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Vineyard Vines, White House/Black Market and DKNY—as well as Bloomingdale’s The Outlet Store and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th.
Cooking enthusiasts will find one of the only two U.S. retail stores for both the U.K.’s Pro Cook and Germany’s Zwilling J.A. Henckels, which makes and distributes premium cutlery. The Bose store here sells factory-renewed sound systems, home theater components and more. If someone in your group prefers hops to shops, direct them to the nearby Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour of the beer-making operations and the Clydesdale barn.
Fall festivals are big in this region. On October 19, Keene, about an hour from Merrimack, will stage its massive worth-the-drive annual Pumpkin Fest. Last year the town glowed with nearly 30,000 jack-o’-lanterns.
Lunch Break: You could go the food-court route at Merrimack–or, better yet, head out to the nearby Common Man Restaurant for pub food, like burgers, pizza and lobster-corn chowder, all served in a restored 18th-century tavern.
The Maine-based outdoors outfitter operates four New Hampshire factory outlet stores, in Concord, Manchester, Nashua and North Conway. All sell discontinued, past-season and overstocked goods.
The Swiss chocolate maker has its only U.S. factory in Stratham, NH. Besides the Stratham outlet store there are partial outlets (usually offering free samples) in North Conway, Merrimack, Portsmouth and more.
NEW HAMPSHIRE LIQUOR & WINE OUTLET
The New Hampshire State Liquor Commission, which controls sales of wine and spirits, has hauled in more than $2 billion since its first store opened in 1934. Shoppers from all over make pilgrimages to the dozens of tax-free, well-stocked outlets around the state to find discounts on their favorite libations—prices are sometimes 50 percent lower than those elsewhere. Check the website for locations. Though the outlets don’t sell beer, a proposed amendment to the state law may soon change that.
THE DETAILSConway Scenic Railroad: conwayscenic.com
Settlers’ Green Outlet Village: settlersgreen.com
Big Dave’s Bagels & Deli: 1130 Eastman Rd., North Conway; 603.356.3283
Tanger Outlets: tangeroutlet.com
Tilt’n Diner: 61 Laconia Rd., Tilton; 603-286-2204
Merrimack Premium Outlets: premiumoutlets.com
Anheuser-Busch Brewery: budweisertours.com
Common Man Restaurant: 304 Daniel Webster Hwy., Merrimack; 603-429-3463
L.L. Bean: llbean.com
New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet: liquorandwineoutlets.com