Laura Hughston of Brownsville, Texas, was shopping at A-Z Kids Friday, looking for gifts for her three kids.
The upscale children’s clothing and toy store is one of 16 shops and restaurants that have opened within the last two months in Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Another 27 stores are on the drawing board, with about eight of those scheduled to open this month and another dozen in the fall.
When the project is complete in 2007, America West and Southwest Airlines’ patrons will have 72 places to eat or shop.
No longer just a place to buy a book for the flight, snag a souvenir T-shirt or down a quick hot dog, Terminal 4 is becoming a shopping-dining destination to rival the lifestyle centers that are popping up around the East Valley.
Brighton Collectibles, which has stores at Kierland Commons, Scottsdale Fashion Square and Chandler Fashion Center, opened two Terminal 4 locations — one inside and one outside security screening.
Desert Breeze, another of the just-opened shops, features pricey island wear with labels ranging from Tommy Bahama to Tori Richards. For traveling duffers, In Celebration of Golf has opened, and the PGA Tour Shop is pegged to tee up in November.
In September, soon-to-beairborne Asian food lovers can chow down at Flo’s, a new location for the popular north Scottsdale restaurant.
Shops specializing in spa products, American Indian art and jewelry and pricey sunglasses are scheduled to open before the November-December holiday shopping season shifts into gear.
In fact, the annual winter spending splurge could help fill up Terminal 4 garage’s short-term parking spots.
Teresa Dominguez, who with partners owns more than a dozen of the new or comingsoon stores including Desert Breeze, Brighton Collectibles and the PGA Tour Shop, has had a PGA Tour Shop in Terminal 3 for eight years. She has several customers who come to Sky Harbor just to browse.
"We have apparel that is exclusive to us, so we have lots of repeat customers," she said.
But most Sky Harbor shoppers are in the airport because they are boarding a plane or accompanying somebody who is leaving town, and the beefed-up security measures that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have spawned a huge opportunity for retailers.
"I have a long time before my flight, and shopping is a nice distraction," said Hughston, a Texas businesswoman.
Dominguez said many people still follow the post-9/11 suggestion of arriving at the airport two hours before flight time, and except for particularly busy travel days, it leaves a lot of time to browse.
That has led to an interesting phenomenon, said Lexie Van Haren, airport spokeswoman. Lobby stores with good visibility of the security checkpoints fare better than those farther away, she said.
Travelers monitor security lines, and if the lines get long they pass though the checkpoint and shop or dine in the concourses, Van Haren said. If the lines are short, they shop in the lobby.
They will have lots of choices either way. About 44 percent of the new retail will be located in the lobby, and 56 percent past security, Van Haren said.
Sky Harbor has a "street pricing" policy that will not allow retailers to premium price goods just because they have a captive audience, Van Haren said. And that also encourages busy business people like Hughston to wait until they get to the airport to buy gifts to take to their destination.
Sky Harbor surveyed 3,000 travelers in June 2003 to get an idea of what kind of shops they wanted to see at the airport, Van Haren said. That helped determine which retailers to sign up.
Among the most popular themes were American Indian-focused or other Arizona-related items, she said.
Also big were requests for a drugstore, so Terminal 4 will get one of those, too.
To add to the luxury shopping center atmosphere, the lobby is getting a major makeover. Old carpets are being replaced with tile for easier luggage rolling, the columns abutting the new shops are getting a granite facing, and the low ceilings are being raised and more lighting added.
The total redo of Terminal 4, which includes adding eyelevel flat-screen flight arrival and departure monitors, is scheduled to be completed in 2007, Van Haren said.