Clad in a green camouflage military-style jacket and her 18-month-old baby on her hip, Kenosha Bryant walked out of the Nike store behind her husband, who toted a new pair of athletic pants.

The Goose Creek family rarely shops in downtown Charleston. When they do, it's "special occasion" trips to stores like Gucci, husband Kennith Bryant said. 

But at least twice a month, sometimes three times, the family travels down to Tanger Outlets.

Trips like these contribute to North Charleston's success as the retail capital of the state. During the 2015-16 year, and for the 25th year in a row, North Charleston led all other cities in gross sales.

The record is no small feat. North Charleston leads other cities by a wide margin — about a billion dollars. Last year, North Charleston grossed about $6.73 billion in sales, while Charleston raked in about $5.59 billion. 

Charleston trails Greenville, the state's second-highest in gross sales at about $5.95 billion. Columbia stands at $5.27 billion. Also in Charleston County, Mount Pleasant alone brought in $2.14 billion. 

Families like the Bryants visit Tanger year-round, but the holiday season is especially lucrative. Black Friday kicks it all off this week. Tanger opened on Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m., and will remain open 28 hours straight — until 10 p.m. Friday. Northwoods Mall, by comparison, was closed Thursday but set to open at 6 a.m. Friday. 

The impressive and steady retail numbers put North Charleston on track to becoming one of the Lowcountry's strongest magnets.

"We're in the center, in the middle of everything," said Kelly Hedman, assistant general manager at Tanger.

The retail revenue helps the city in indirect ways. A portion of the sales tax goes into the general fund, which helps run the city, North Charleston spokesperson Ryan Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the growing presence of major retailers in the city also brings in other sources of income, such as property taxes, business licenses and other fees.

"The increase in property tax collections is from new development, both commercial and residential, as well as increased property values in revitalized and improving areas. Not property tax increases," Johnson said. "A stronger overall economy also has the effect of increasing city revenues through business license collections and permit fees."

During the past decade, the city's total revenues have risen more than 50 percent — without a major tax increase.

The concentration of so much shopping also has created jobs. But because individual retailers keep track of employee demographics, Hedman said, it's impossible for Tanger to know how many of its employees actually live in North Charleston. 

At Northwoods Mall on Tuesday, Aerimon Gipson, 20, shopped for a new phone case. He said knew at least five friends who live in North Charleston and work at Tanger.

"There are more job opportunities," he said. 

Kenosha Bryant lives in Goose Creek with her family, but she grew up in North Charleston. She said its retail boom has been "good for the city."

Beyond job opportunities for those in the hospitality industry and increasing revenue for the city, the 38-year-old also sees a downside.

"The majority of us hate it, all the tourists, and the number of people who have migrated here," she said.

On Tuesday, a handful of shoppers at Tanger and Northwoods reflected a diverse but loyal consumer base. Many hailed from the Lowcountry area and visit Tanger as opposed to their hometown malls.

Several West Ashley residents said they prefer to shop at Tanger instead of other stores closer by or in downtown Charleston.

Jan Fincher, 58, said she visits Tanger at least once every two months to shop at Talbots. By opting for the outlet store, she can save about $70 per shopping trip, she said. On Tuesday, she was looking for a pair of black pants.

At an outdoor table, West Ashley resident Nick Eppehimer, 38, waited for his wife to finish up inside H&M. He sat with his 4-year-old son, Noah. The family prefers Tanger's selection to Citadel Mall's "empty stores," he said. 

"It's nice to be outside, as opposed to inside a dying mall," he said. 

Still, both Eppehimer and Fincher were surprised to learn that North Charleston has the state's highest retail sales. Both had assumed that Charleston would have higher sales.

North Charleston tax revenue

City of North Charleston/provided

Despite North Charleston's more infamous statistic, its record-setting homicide rate so far this year, Fincher said she feels safe at Tanger.

"The impression that I've gotten in North Charleston, from everything in the news, is crime," Fincher said. "But you come here, and you're not in a crime district. ... It's a city within a city."

Looking at Noah, Eppehimer also said the crime has not deterred his family from spending their dollars in this city. 

"You feel safe here," he added.

Tanger also may appeal to some who don't want to wrestle with traffic or parking downtown. Lucky Brand Jeans has stores both downtown and at Tanger, and Joan Beasley manages the Tanger store.

Both Lucky stores do well, she said, but Beasley has noticed a strong local customer base at Tanger.

"Most people in here I recognize," she said, "and I've only been here for five months."

But in addition to loyal locals, Tanger also draws international customers. Eliana Silva, who lives in Montreal but is originally from Brazil, was in town this week visiting her sister-in-law in Summerville. Trips to Tanger are a regular part of her visits. And it's not a one-trip stop.

She and her husband, Marco Silva, joked that Thanksgiving is only a disguise for the real reason they visit their family here.

"We'll be here for Black Friday," she said. "10 a.m." 

Inside the management office at Tanger Outlet, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" played softly through the speakers as the staff prepped for their round-the-clock capitalistic bonanza. 

Hedman was scheduled to start work at 10 p.m. Thursday and work through the night. She expected long lines, full parking lots, and lots and lots of sales.

"It really does kick off the holiday season," she said. 

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Reach Hannah Alani at 843-937-5428. Follow her on Twitter @HannahAlani.

Hannah Alani is a reporter at The Post and Courier covering race, immigration and rural life across the Palmetto State. Before graduating from Indiana University and moving to Charleston in 2017, her byline appeared in The New York Times.

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