Yolanda Wilcox's timing couldn't have been better.
She lives in San Antonio, but has friends in Bakersfield she visits when her husband comes here on business. This trip happened to coincide with Wednesday night's private preview for The Outlets at Tejon. The new mall officially opens to the public today, but for $25 (with proceeds benefitting local charities), some eager shoppers got to check out the 320,000-square-foot shopping center a day early.
A half hour after the event's 6 p.m. opening, Wilcox, 54, was already lugging four bags as she nibbled on a free finger sandwich from Beverly Hills-based Drago Catering.
"I got some purses and a watch," she said beaming when asked about her haul.
Gifts or for you?
"Oh, yes, me, definitely for me," she said giggling.
Nearby, Margaret DeArmond was munching in a circle with her sister and four friends.
DeArmond, 66, is a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, a nonprofit agency that assists abused and neglected children involved in legal proceedings. CASA of Kern County was one of seven charities receiving 100 percent of the proceeds from the evening's ticket sales. CASA sold 600 tickets, raising $15,000.
"It was very generous of Tejon Ranch to do this for us," DeArmond said. "We're just thrilled, and the mall is very well done. It's beautiful."
All together, 4,000 tickets were sold, raising a total of $100,000 for five Bakersfield nonprofits and one each in Lake Hughes and Santa Clarita.
In addition to CASA, the beneficiaries were American Red Cross, Kern Chapter; Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County; Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley; Junior League of Bakersfield; Links for Life; and The Painted Turtle, a camp in Lake Hughes for children with serious medical conditions.
"We've worked with them for a long time," said Barry Zoeller, vice president and director of corporate communications at Tejon Ranch. "We tried to pick charities we already had some sort of relationship with."
The event was sold out in just a few weeks, mirroring the success of the mall itself.
The Outlets at Tejon was fully leased with 71 stores and restaurants about six months after making the rounds with prospective tenants, Zoeller said.
On Wednesday, the excitement among consumers was clear. Police were brought in to direct considerable traffic, and in stores such as H&M, which are new to Kern County, lines snaked almost to the back of the store.
"And this is the easy day," Zoeller said.
Between 200,000 and 250,000 shoppers are expected to show up opening weekend.
Preview visitors got gift bags with freebies, including a T-shirt from clothing store A'Gaci and a Kern County visitor's guide.
There was also live music, and Drago Catering handed out 4,000 sandwiches (slider burgers and ham and cheese) and 3,150 salads.
"We've given away about 30 percent of the food in the first 35 minutes already," said owner Celestino Drago.
Candy and ice cream shop Dewar's had several lines a dozen people deep waiting for cold treats on a warm evening.
Store manager Michelle Candolita said the Bakersfield-based chain brought in employees from its other three locations to handle the crowds.
"It's been busy, but not more than we expected," she said. "We were ready for it."
Candolita said she's happy about the new mall at the base of the Grapevine.
"I think it's going to be really good for the region," she said.
Robin Bunyan, 43, of Bakersfield, said the mall was "outstanding."
"I love it, and I'm going to support it and stimulate the local economy," she said.
Her only quibble was with the prices.
"So far I'm not seeing deals much better than at a regular mall, but the variety is excellent," she said.
Brigette Hamblet, 43, of Bakersfield, was shopping for school clothes with her 11-year-old daughter, Juliana, at A'Gaci.
She was delighted to see so many stores that are new to the area.
"There are quite a few stores here that aren't in Bakersfield," she said. "This is a wonderful opportunity for us as a community. We don't have to travel all the way to Los Angeles or Fresno anymore."