Factory outlet stores have been around since the 1800's when apparel and shoe mill stores on the Eastern seaboard began offering excess and damaged goods to employees. Eventually these mill stores opened their doors to consumers. In 1936, Anderson-Little, a manufacturer of men's clothing, opened the first "factory-direct" stores. These outlets were located in remote areas so they would not directly compete with retail stores.

In 1974, the first multi-tenant manufacturers' outlet center opened in Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1980 the first enclosed outlet center opened. During the 1990's, manufacturers' outlets ranked as the fastest growing segment of the retail sector, representing a $12.2 billion dollar industry with more than 300 centers nationwide.