We visited NYC’s first outlet mall — which is still more than half-empty months after opening — and found an eerie ghost town

A floral sign at Empire Outlets in Staten Island.

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A floral sign at Empire Outlets in Staten Island.
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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

  • The first-ever outlet mall in New York City opened in May. Several months later only a third of the stores are occupied, according to a recent report from The City.
  • We visited Empire Outlets in Staten Island and saw that a majority of the sprawling 340,000 square-foot space is still empty and under construction.
  • Though we were impressed with the design and beautiful Manhattan skyline views, there was a troubling lack of shoppers and the empty storefronts created a bit of a wasteland atmosphere.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Though traditional malls may be on the decline, New York City is taking a chance on its first-ever outlet mall, the recently opened Empire Outlets in Staten Island.

Empire Outlets was developed by BFC Partners and officially opened to the public in May, announcing at the time it planned to open stores in multiple stages. However, with just a third of the storefront spaces currently filled, the future success of the endeavor remains unclear. Though the mall currently boasts several major brands – including American Eagle, Brooks Brothers, Crocs, Gap, Nike, and Nordstrom Rack, among others – thus far only 26 of its 75 retail spaces are currently filled, The City reported.

“The vast majority” of the retail spaces have already been leased, a BFC spokesperson told the City.

“Empire Outlets has played a central role in the revitalization of Staten Island’s North Shore and is quickly becoming one of New York’s top shopping destinations for local residents and tourists from throughout the world,” a statement given to The City reads.

Still, outlet malls with their enticing deals on discounted goods have fared better than traditional malls in recent years. Today there are around 200 outlets in the US valued at a combined $50 billion according to data provided to the Wall Street Journal by Green Street Advisors. Part of the success of outlets can be attributed to their lack of department stores – which have been particularly hard hit in the retail apocalypse – as well as increased demand for off-price options contributing to the growth of offshoots like Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off-Fifth.

Read more: 50 haunting photos of abandoned shopping malls across America

When we visited Empire Outlets on a recent Thursday morning, several areas were still under construction and the mall was nearly empty. Despite these concerning elements, the mall itself was impressive with its gleaming industrial architecture, the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, and its sheer enormity.

Here’s what we saw.


To get to Empire Outlets from Manhattan, you can catch the Staten Island Ferry. The free boat ride takes a little more than 20 minutes.

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Empire Outlets is conveniently located right by the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island. We saw this massive H&M almost immediately after we got off the boat. According to The City, the project cost developer BFC partners $350 million which included a $47 million subsidy from the state government, and took seven years to develop

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We arrived on a Thursday morning shortly after the mall opened at 10 a.m. We started on the street level, and there was hardly anyone in sight.

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There may not have been shoppers, but we found quite a few fountains. The Manhattan skyline is ever-present.

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As we walked around, we started to see some familiar names like American Eagle and Aerie.

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There was also a Banana Republic.

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And also a Guess, as well as (finally) a few signs of humanity.

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What the mall lacked in stores and shoppers, it made up for with greenery and tidy landscaping.

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As well as some interesting modern architecture.

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The massive Nordstrom Rack was probably the most bustling part of the mall.

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We popped in and did some browsing, where we were impressed with the selection.


The top floor is closed off to visitors, as there are still no open stores on this level.

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So instead we took the escalator to the lower level, which gave us some spooky vibes.

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The lighting was especially dark on the lower level.

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Maybe they’re trying to set the mood… for murderers?


Empty storefronts were ubiquitous and gave the mall a bit of an unsettling feel.

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More empty storefronts.

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And even more empty storefronts, this time with an amazing view.

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For all its flaws, we couldn’t deny the view from nearly every part of Empire Outlets was a delight.

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Next, we passed through another unusually dark underpass.

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Once we reached daylight again (whew) we stumbled across what appeared to be an interesting art installation, before discovering these “tulips” also double as seats.

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We saw several people waiting to post in front of this floral “EO” sign.

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Elsewhere in the mall, we found another flower display. However, the construction in the background really hindered the aesthetic.

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Next, we made our way to the dining area. While there’s no traditional mall food court, we did find several mall staples like Wetzels Pretzels.

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There were also a couple of food trucks.

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However, even among the food, there were several unopened spaces.

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There was also a Walgreens.

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We found this ominous situation near the bathrooms…

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The half-finished-ness of the outlets was incredibly apparent.

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As we made our way toward the exit, we saw a Shake Shack sign and contemplated a burger, before discovering it wasn’t actually open yet.

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Near the Shake Shack, we an unopened Lucky Brand store, despite a sign declaring it would open in July.

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On the outskirts of the ground level, we found “Virtual Rush,” a VR experience.

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It’s currently running an Apollo 11 simulation, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.


Nearby, we found an empty seating area painted in the likeness of the American flag.

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As we walked back to the ferry, we were conflicted on our thoughts on Empire Outlets. It showed signs of promise, but the many empty stores and lack of shoppers felt like a troubling red flag.

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Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Empire Outlets will become a go-to shopping destination.

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Bethany Biron/Business Insider