SIMPSONVILLE — Parking lots weren't open until about 9 a.m., and a tractor-trailer crash on Interstate 64 had closed one lane east of the Simpsonville exit, but shoppers found their way to the grand opening of The Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass on Thursday morning.
"I got here at 8 and parked over at Culver's," said Renee Stucker of nearby Shelbyville.
"I got here, I think it was 8:30," said her friend Corinna Pannell of Simpsonville. "And I had to drive around until they opened the lot."
Officials had planned to open the mall's parking lot a little later, but Simpsonville police Sgt. Timothy Hurt said plans changed when out-of-town shoppers and anxious customers began lining up on roads around the lot.
"Our chief got with the mall's security directors and decided to go ahead and let folks come in and start parking," Hurt said.
The 374,300-square-foot property, owned by Horizon Group Properties, is planned to have more than 110 stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue Off Fifth, Polo Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Gucci, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Charlotte Russe, Old Navy, Brooks Brothers, The North Face, Eddie Bauer, Kate Spade, Loft Outlet and Under Armour.
Debbie Taylor, who got to the mall early Thursday after driving from Louisville, was surprised when parking wasn't available.
While waiting to be let in, she parked on a side road behind the outlet mall.
"I said, 'This is crazy. Where are all of these people going to go?'" Taylor said.
The main lot consists of 2,150 spaces plus two overflow lots. Hurt, the police sergeant, said his biggest concern, after the safety of drivers and customers, was the lack of parking as shoppers arrived.
Shoppers traveling from Lexington hit some standstill traffic after the tractor-trailer crash, which occurred before 7:30 a.m. Traffic was reduced to one lane for several hours, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Hurt was one of five Simpsonville officers on duty during the opening. There also were two Shelby County sheriff's deputies, mall police and event parking personnel. Hurt said Simpsonville officers would be at the mall until Sunday, helping with parking and any other problems.
He anticipated larger crowds Saturday and Sunday.
"A lot of folks are working today and can't afford to take off," he said.
Shopper Dezirae Shukla said she didn't mind the amount of traffic Thursday morning. Shukla said the mall was easy to find, and her only concern was parking. "There was nowhere to stop safely, and it definitely isn't safe to keep circling around," she said.
Marsha Allen of Columbia drove 110 miles in search of bargains. At 11 a.m., she rested against a soft-drink machine outside the stores, overstuffed bags from American Eagle, Aeropostale and Charlotte Russe at her feet.
Her niece Terra White and White's daughter Taylor Lawhorn joined her.
"We got up at 4 and left at 5," and drove an hour and 45 minutes, Allen said.
"Grandson shopping," she said. "He's got to go back to school; he's turning 16."
After a quick trip to the car to drop off bags, she came back for more.
"We're going to unload for the big grandchild," she said with a laugh, "so that we can go buy for the baby grandchild."
Many stores offered special deals for early shoppers. For example, Crabtree & Evelyn gave free hand lotion to the first 100 customers, and J. Crew offered 60 percent off tees and 15 percent discounts for students with ID. Wilson's Leather had an extra 70 percent off its entire stock of bags and clothing for Thursday only.
Even before it opened its doors, the Coach store, with its high-end leather handbags, drew a crowd. Among them were Millie Copeland and Jade Barber of Louisville. They stood toward the front of a line that started at the store's front doors, snaked around the corner and down the corridor. They had been in line about half an hour, they guessed.
Copeland said they were unaware of any special deals at the store.
"It's just a name brand," she said of the allure of the bags.
Harriett Hendren: (859) 231-3324.