GRAND PRAIRIE -- Tamesha Tucker, Karla Campos and Dyamond Hogg got off work at Arlington Medical Center at 7 a.m. Thursday after a 12-hour shift in the neonatal intensive care unit, ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel and headed to the new Paragon Outlets Grand Prairie mall still dressed in their nursing scrubs.
They were first in line at the Coach store, which is where they wanted to be.
"We've had our Dr Pepper, our caffeine, and we are good," said Tucker, of Arlington, about 15 minutes before the store opened. A line of more than 100 people formed behind them and it kept growing as store employees were inside getting a last-minute pep talk.
The outlet mall, at Interstate 20 and Texas 360, received its first passing grades from shoppers as most stores held their "soft" opening before the grand-opening weekend starting today. It's expected to draw 100,000 people.
At the Coach store, the steady stream of shoppers caused the doors to be closed at times so too many wouldn't be inside at once. Coach was offering an additional 30 percent off the lowest price on an item.
First impressions of the $100 million outlet mall, featuring more than 100 stores, were positive. It's big, it's conveniently located, and it has covered walkways, shoppers said.
Many stores are adding discounts to their already-reduced-price inventory for the grand-opening weekend.
"This is amazing," said Norma Davila, 33, of Grand Prairie, who walked out of the Nine West store beaming, carrying four pairs of shoes, some that cost only $14.99 each.
Like Coach, Nike was drawing throngs of customers. Friends Katie Collins, 17, and Kadeejah Williams, 18, recent graduates of Arlington Martin High School, were perched outside the Nike store by 8:30 a.m., the first in line for the 10 a.m. opening.
"We want to be the first ones in the store," said Collins, who is heading to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches to study nutrition. "We've been waiting for this for a long time. I want to buy all the Nike clothes I can get my hands on."
They were also going to check out American Eagle, Love Culture and PacSun. Each left the Nike store with a pair of new shoes and shorts, and the free water bottle handed out to the first 200 customers.
Indeed, shoppers have long anticipated the shopping center. The project, on 56 acres at the northeast corner of I-20 and Texas 360, was announced in 2008, but development stalled during the recession.
Also outside the Nike store early, and armed with eight sheets of paper containing coupons, Kim Burckhard of Mansfield said she did her homework and was prepared to spend the day shopping. She was with her daughter Mikayla, 17, and her friend Aaron Harris, 17.
"We have driven by every week just to see if we could walk through," Burckhard said. "I was so excited they were opening the day before the tax-free weekend."
Many shoppers peeked in store windows long before the shops opened. Retailers were washing windows and sweeping floors until opening time.
Maudie Wayne of Fort Worth arrived with a girlfriend at 7 a.m. They thought the shopping center was opening earlier than 10 a.m. They were window-shopping at Michael Kors. The store didn't open until 12:30 p.m.
Barbara Salazar, 52, and her daughter Rosie, 22, arrived at 9 a.m. They live about two miles from the shopping center.
"It's really nice," Barbara Salazar said.
Shortly after noon, Arnie Orlick, senior vice president of outlet stores for Bloomingdale's, said he was astonished when he walked into their store and saw the number of shoppers.
"Today is not even the grand opening," Orlick said. "This is a dry run. I can't believe how much traffic is here for a dry run. I'm ecstatic."
It was Orlick's first time to see the finished store, and he was impressed. The number of homes in a 20-mile radius, in addition to the average income level, led Bloomingdale's to choose Paragon Outlets.
Its only other Texas store is at the Shops at Park Lane in Dallas. Bloomingdale's now has 10 outlets nationwide, according to its website.
About the only thing not getting good marks was the food court, where half the vendors were still setting up and orders were slowly being filled.
But that's why retailers were given Thursday as a dress rehearsal, said Karen Fluharty, a spokeswoman for Baltimore-based Paragon.
"It's billed as a sneak preview," she said. "It's a way to get a sense of what's going to happen. When you deal with the public, anything can happen. We're ready."
The center is 100 percent leased. Swarovski and Lancome are the only stores not ready for the grand opening, and that was because inventory wasn't shipped in time, Fluharty said.
Paragon has 2,276 parking spaces but leased an additional 1,500 at HighPoint Church on the west side of Texas 360. Shoppers were being shuttled every 10 minutes.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727