Bring the group to Midwest retail hotspots like these premium shopping centers and you’ll have a busload of happy campers

“Shop-til-you-drop!” may be the battle cry of girlfriend groups the world over. But every tour genre can benefit from just the right amount of retail therapy. A sampling of group-friendly cities throughout the Midwest offers a smorgasbord of retailing with exceptional shopping centers and designer districts. Get ready to explore off-the-beaten-path boutiques and old-fashioned markets of the flea and farmer’s variety as well.

Chicago’s Shopping Centers

aa_shoppingstatest_02The Windy City is a shopper’s paradise beginning with the Magnificent Mile – that section of Michigan Avenue stretching between Oak Street and the Chicago River – and extending over to State Street in the Loop. The outdoor shopping center is comprised of several blocks of well-known retailers appealing to everyone.

New York City may boast Fifth Avenue, but Chicago can tout Michigan. Not only famed for being home to the massive Crate & Barrel flagship store, this length of retail heaven invites shoppers to stroll from store to store and step into vertical malls. Peruse names like Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus, Niketown, Burberry, Coach – the list is virtually endless. Bright red bags announcing the presence of the American Girl doll store are seen outside the Water Tower Place. In fact, the store comes complete with a bistro for those fabulous grandmother-mother-daughter lunches or teas.

High-end retail therapy on Oak Street

If your appetite leans more toward really high-end goodies, visit nearby Oak Street. Famous names like Prada, Harry Winston, David Yurman and LaPerla reign supreme here. When you visit Oak Street, you are steps closer to Rush Street, where some outstanding dining spots are located.

Non-retail Chicago attractions not to be missed

Exhausted by this non-stop retail marathon? Duck into Forth Street Presbyterian Church on North Michigan Avenue. Every Friday at precisely 12:10 p.m., they offer free concerts to everyone. Or step into the lobby of the John Hancock Center, board an elevator and jet 94 floors to 360 Chicago observatory. Additionally, have a refreshing beverage with your vies at the Signature Lounge at the 96th or meal at the Signature Room at the 95th.

Likewise, don’t leave Chicago without making the short hike to State Street for a visit to the National Historic Landmark. In fact, the landmark used to be Marshall Field’s. The story goes, it gave way to Macy’s when the New York retail giant purchased the iconic Chicago retailer in 2005. Staple experiences, such lunch at the Walnut Room, still lure groups and are worth the trip.

Milwaukee Has Blocks of Shops

Milwaukee offers everything for a group shopping experience from shopping centers like suburban malls – both retail and outlet – to – antiques and more. A wealth of opportunities for travelers to fill their suitcases awaits for retailing groups.

Historic Third Ward an incredible experience

“Bronze Fonz” at Milwaukee’s RiverWalk. Photo courtesy of Ionigonzalez via Flickr

Margaret Casey of Visit Milwaukee recommends several shopping gems for groups. This includes the Historic Third Ward, located just south of downtown. The revitalization of this turn-of-the-20th century warehouse and manufacturing district has earned it comparisons to New York’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. Accordingly, the six-square-block area contains the city’s highest concentration of art galleries. In addition, theaters and a selection of exclusive boutiques, specialty stores, restaurants and nightlife comprise the area. In fact, the neighborhood was named a Top 12 ArtPlace and is home to the award-winning Third Ward RiverWalk as well as the Milwaukee Public Market, a foodie haven.

Explore the 15-city-block RiverWalk

Shopping centers with a natural atmosphere exist in the Midwest. An example is the RiverWalk that extends for more than 15 city blocks. The RiverWalk sports a variety of permanent and temporary public art displays along the scenic promenade of restaurants, cafes, pubs and shops. At the southeast corner of Wells Street and the RiverWalk, group members are sure to jump at a thumbs-up photo-op with the “Bronze Fonz.” The life-sized statue of Henry Winkler’s iconic character “Fonzie” is an homage to the Milwaukee-based “Happy Days” TV show.

German heritage shopping center

At the other end of RiverWalk is Old World Third Street, a historic landmark zone where Milwaukee’s German heritage is brought to life. Detailed facades of 19th century, European-style buildings line this quaint cobblestone street. Shopping at Wisconsin Cheese Mart, the legendary Usinger’s Sausage and The Spice House is a feast for all senses. And a visit would not be complete without a stop at the Old German Beer Hall and Mader’s, where famous German dishes have satisfied hungry patrons for more than 100 years.

European-style village, Wauwatosa

Visit Milwakee’s Casey also recommends Wauwatosa, just 15 minutes away from downtown Milwaukee. Wauwatosa is a unique, European-style village that offers a wide range of shopping options. Whether independent retailers or luxury national brands are the goal, it can be found in Tosa, as it’s known to locals. Charming and highly walkable, Tosa is filled with one-of-a-kind shops. Looking for a chic boutique? Find trendy accessories at Bangles & Bags or explore a number of other local shops featuring contemporary and urban women’s apparel and accessories. Shop designs from local artists as well as designers across the country.

After scouring the boutiques, head to Mayfair, Wisconsin’s most successful shopping center. Explore 180 shopping and dining retailers including Crate & Barrel, Coach, Pandora and Bare Escentuals. In fact, this Wauwatose shopping destination is home to the state’s first Nordstrom. Just up the street from Mayfair is The Mayfair Collection, completing the exciting fashion-focused retail corridor. The Mayfair Collection is home to retailers like Nordstrom Rack and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH and still expanding.


Mall of America, the biggest of all Midwest shopping centers

Shopping Centers in Bloomington, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota

This region is best known as the corporate home of popular retailer Target and for the goliath Mall of America. Thus, Minneapolis-St. Paul and nearby Bloomington, Minnesota might just well be the embodiment of shopping heaven.

Mall of America

Even with its 520 stores, 60 restaurants, indoor theme park, aquarium and other attractions, Mall of America is the country’s second largest shopping center behind King of Prussia in Pennsylvania. More than 12,000 groups flock here each year to enjoy sales tax-free shopping for clothing and shoes. Not to mention tailor-made group excursions, such as Hard Rock (as in Cafe) Behind-The-Scenes, SeaLife Aquarium’s Behind-The-Scenes, Dick’s Last Resort’s Scavenger Hunt and a multitude of culinary experiences. These can be pre-arranged for groups by contacting the mall’s group sales office in advance.

Grand Avenue shopping center

Beyond Mall of America, a very different shopping center exists in nearby St. Paul on Grand Avenue, where shops boast a wide range of styles. Accordingly, consumers can expect to find some of the best apparel, accessories, shoes, spas, books, furniture, and gift shops in Minnesota,

Midtown Global Market in South Minneapolis

Another crowd-pleaser is Midtown Global Market, an internationally themed public market offering groceries, food and gifts. In addition, the diverse setting is one that has characterized South Minneapolis for decades.

“Rodeo” of Columbus, Ohio

Short North Arts District arches

Short North Arts District arches is a city shopping center

Known for pioneering the experiential tourism trend, Columbus, Ohio’s vibrant neighborhoods are teeming with some of best shopping in the Midwest.

Columbus was ranked #3 on the Fashionable Destinations list by USA Today. From boutiques in the Short North Arts District to its “Rodeo Drive of the Midwest” at Easton Town Center, Columbus lives up to its ranking. It seems fitting (no pun intended), given that a wealth of clothing mega-brands, such as Victoria’s Secret and the L Brands, are headquartered here.

Short North is the “art and soul of Columbus”

The Short North district, which bills itself as “the art and soul of Columbus,” is not just for the well-dressed, although it is described as teeming with one-of-a-kind and trendy clothing boutiques. This highly successful urban revitalization project is centered on the main strip of High Street. Immediately north of downtown, it extends until just south of the Ohio State University campus area. It is an easy walk from the convention center of Nationwide Arena district. Shopping – from vintage to funky to chic to artsy – is on the map, as are art galleries.

Midwest German Village heritage

Located just south of downtown Columbus, German Village is one of the most atmospheric neighborhoods in the Midwest. Originally built by German settlers in the mid-1800s, the lovingly restored brick houses, shops, streets and sidewalks are full of historic charm and modern swank. It’s here that the 32-room Book Loft has been a favorite location to wander for generations. In addition, Helen Winnemore’s carries modern American crafts and Caterina stocks fine European wares.

Shopping centers beyond the city

Outside the city, the aforementioned Easton Town Center is a mammoth outdoor shopping center experience. Peruse everything from department stores, like Nordstrom, to smaller designer boutiques and shops.

Indianapolis Shopping Centers

Indianapolis is well known for its world-class museums, but its shopping centers and retailing opportunities deserves a high ranking on a group’s “to-do” list as well.

Ultimate shopping center at Keystone at the Crossing

Keystone at the Crossing is described by Indy native & resident/retired educator/veteran group tour traveler Sharri Wagner as “the ultimate shopping area in Indy.” Not only does it include shops like Saks, Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, J Jill, West Elm, Kate Spade, Urban Outfitters and Williams-Sonoma. It also comprises some great locally owned dining spots and a healthy number of chain eateries.

Fountain Square downtown

Only a mile-and-a-half from downtown Indianapolis, Fountain Square is located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue at Shelby and Prospect streets. The funky Indianapolis neighborhood is filled with independent restaurants, live music and working artists. In addition, specialty stores that sell food, fashion, comics, fresh flowers and more are available. Calling it the hottest area for foodies and shopping, Wagner says, “I was there recently and was just blown away with all the people and activity.”

Among her favorite shops? Vintage Antiques, Wildwood Gourmet Market and Mass Avenue Knitting. She also mentioned the abundance of locally owned dining establishments.

“Mass Ave” cultural district

Massachusetts Avenue, or “Mass Ave” as it’s known locally, is a five-block cultural district just northeast of downtown. It’s packed with eclectic shops, theaters, galleries and dining. Wagner likes the variety and the fact that the neighborhood, which is termed “45 degrees from ordinary,” is conveniently located and “very walkable.” Shops include Mass Ave Toys, Silver in the City, Arts-A-Poppin and Global Gifts, among many others.

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