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Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 02/21/2007

C-Mart: It's Just Like A Mini-Mall

By Fritz Hahn

Since C-Mart opened north of Baltimore in 1971, the formula has been simple: From stores like Intermix, Forever 21 and American Eagle Outfitters, the company buys entire stocks that are liquidations or insurance losses and then sells them cheap. Most importantly, C-Mart made its name by offering current collections; these are spring 2007 lines, not fall colors.

The first Washington store, a former Sam's Club in the shadow of FedEx Field, opened over Presidents' Day weekend. A friend and I couldn't make it to what we heard was a jam-packed opening day, but we decided to head out a day later, even though we knew it might be shopped out.

Although C-Mart is a vast warehouse with about a third of the space devoted to furniture -- sofas, huge coffee tables, entertainment centers -- for this first foray, we focused on clothing and accessories.

Before heading into the packed women's section, we passed glass cases full of Prada purses and Longchamp striped bags ("so cute," my friend commented) and plenty of sunglasses; I saw some stunna-esque Diesels marked down to around $150, though I'd probably regret buying a pair once I left them in a cab. A decent selection of Kate Spade frames beat their Bluefly competition by about 25 percent.

Fans of Lily Pulitzer and Betsey Johnson dresses were the big winners, as there was a wide selection discounted by 60 or 70 percent from the regular price. Also, we found several racks filled with Ellen Tracy and the minimalist fashions of Jil Sander.

Clothes for juniors were located in the far back through the men's area, but it's worth exploring to get there. Just past the summer dresses from the hot boutique Intermix were racks of clothes from Forever 21, which my friend found odd because "their stuff is so cheap anyway, so why would it need to be discounted?" (That said, she did buy a dress that was marked down to about $10.)

C-Mart doesn't boast much in the way of men's footwear, but there was plenty of buzz around the displays of women's shoes -- with most sizes where they should be, unlike some discount stores. After spying patent-leather Stuart Weitzman heels, bright Burberry espadrilles ($80, down from $225) and flats from Irregular Choice, my friend pronounced the selection "awesome," especially because many were cheaper than at Nordstrom Rack; she spotted Coach and Kate Spade styles for less than $100 a pair.

The men's selection is solid and much larger than I've found at similar outlets (er, Loehmann's). Ted Baker suits were going for $500 and John Varvatos hoodies for $60, along with good mix of cashmere and wool sweaters from Zegna, Theory and Marc Jacobs. Diesel Jeans can be snapped up for $50; Seven, a little more. One long rack held Ralph Lauren polo shirts in every color of the rainbow, though the Ben Sherman track tops and Paul Smith T-shirts, both of which were selling for $20, were more appealing to me.

Among the real steals were rows of unsorted cardboard boxes filled with American Apparel merchandise. Everything inside -- T-shirts, hoodies, sweat pants, skirts, underwear, bikinis, etc. -- was $4. The catch was you had to root through the two-foot-high boxes until you found something you wanted in your size and your preferred color, and then make sure it didn't have any unsightly stains.

We agreed we'd go again, although much earlier in the day and probably not on a weekend. Lines for the dressing rooms, which are not communal, would probably be shorter and you'd have more time to pick through the overflowing racks.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | February 21, 2007; 12:46 PM ET
 
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