Dillard's Clearance Center

Once the site of a D.H. Holmes, a department store at The Esplanade mall became a Dillard's in 1989, and last August, it was converted into a clearance center for the national chain. "It receives clearance merchandise from several stores in your region," says Julie Bull, director of investor relations for Dillard's Inc. "Discounts are usually at least 65 percent. They can go down from there." In other words, this store is where Dillard's goods get put out to the proverbial pasture — and where everything from Jessica Simpson frocks to men's knit shirts can be had for a song.

  It's a bit of a trip to get to The Esplanade (1401 Esplanade Ave., Kenner), which, on a weekday, was permeated with the peopleless gloom and vast, empty parking lots endemic to struggling suburban malls. Glaring red signs flanked the clearance center's entrance ("ALL SALES FINAL. NO RETURNS. NO EXCHANGES. NO ADJUSTMENTS."), but their severe, all-caps commands were counterbalanced with welcome descriptions of the discounts ("CLEARANCE 50% to 65% OFF"). The fluorescent-lit, 170,000-square-feet store is filled with racks containing everything from last season's sequined holiday shift dresses to designer jeans, from fur-lined boots to bedding and bathing suits.   

  "They receive shipments several times a week from other stores," Bull says. "The merchandise changes frequently, and you can find exciting buys. A lot of people spend a lot of time shopping — they make a day out of it."

United Apparel Liquidators

Is that handbag from this season?" asked a shopper at United Apparel Liquidator (UAL).

  "This one?" UAL co-manager Ashley Weilenman gestured toward a bag in a locked glass case. "Yes — it was a display bag. The label doesn't sell displays, so we liquidate them."

  Originally priced at five digits, the handbag was a relative bargain at $1,199.99. It's just one of a smorgasbord of designer pieces for sale at UAL. Created in Hattiesburg, Miss. in 1981 by owners Bill and Melody Cohen, the store gets clothing and accessories directly from designers, showrooms and retailers and sells them at steep discounts.

  "We liquidate straight from designer overstock," Weilenman says. "(The owners) have relationships with the designers since they've been in business so long, and that's how we're able to bring great clothing to everyday consumers at a price everyone can afford."

  The French Quarter location features more high-end couture pieces ("We get higher traffic, so the couture pieces get more exposure," Weilenman says), and the Covington location has an assortment of basic contemporary lines including those by Trina Turk, Chan Luu and Nanette Lepore. There's everything from Cleo & Cat rings for $9.99 to a rack of dresses by designers including Cynthia Rowley and Diane von Furstenberg, all priced at less than $100.

  "It's a little treasure trove, a gem of a store," Weilenman says of UAL, which receives new shipments every day. "It's hard to keep a paycheck."

Shoe-Nami Outlet

Shoe-Nami is already known for being a mecca for inexpensive, trendy shoes, so the presence of a Shoe-Nami outlet raises a question: How can the shoes be cheaper than they already are?

  According to co-owner Dora Cullen, the answer is twofold: Some of the outlet's stock is sale merchandise that didn't sell at Shoe-Nami's two New Orleans locations, and some is ordered in bulk specifically for the outlet, which allows a lower price point. "There's no such thing as too affordable," Cullen says. "We realized if we brought in more volume, we could offer better deals to our customers. And we get a better rent (on the West Bank), so we could afford to do the concept."

  The 1,500-square-foot Shoe-Nami outlet opened in summer 2009, and nothing costs more than $19.99. There are frequent sales, such as a buy-two-get-one-free promotion good for shoes priced at $9.99 a pair, and the merchandise is up to date: A recent visit revealed a seasonally appropriate inventory of sandals, wedges and summery flats. Cullen says the most of-the-moment shoes are carried by the regular locations, but in time (often as little as a month) the runoff finds its way to the outlet.

  "Eventually, it trickles down to this location, if you're willing to wait it out," she says.