I was dismayed this summer when I took a short hiatus to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for some rest, relaxation and of course shopping, only to find out that Waccamaw was all but closed. I've shopped there for well over 10 years.

It was part of the vacation routine to go to the enormous spread and wander around looking for a broken plate replacement or finding that perfect baker's rack for my sun room.

Subsequently I found out that in early 2001, Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based HomePlace of America Inc. again has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The retailer recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which it declared in 1999.

The privately held company listed $324.5 million in total assets and $255.7 million in total liabilities. HomePlace reported $686 million in total sales for 2000. The company also stated it received a $150 million debtor-in-possession commitment from a group of lenders led by Fleet Retail Finance Inc.

A company spokesperson said the bankruptcy filing will allow the company to close unprofitable stores acquired in a merger with Waccamaw in 1999 so it can focus on its 84 stores it plans to keep open.

I can remember the day when dozens of buses lined the vast parking lot waiting for their passengers to disembark with fists full of dollars. Members of the excited groups recited for the 100th time the wish list of items they were on the hunt for inside the shopping Mecca. Had the “shop and stay” idea run it's course?

I did a little checking on the Internet and was pleased to find vacationers still anticipate traveling and shopping as an inseparable combination — good news for our industry.

One of the most impressive sites was that of Charter Oak Partners which owns and manages 11 factory outlet shopping centers nationwide. The one I examined was in Connecticut's Westbrook Factory Stores outlet center (www.shopwestbrook.com). The site was extremely professional, easy to navigate and had many suggestions/links on where customers could stay, find nearby shopping and how they could find a motor coach shopping tour. After I'd browsed, I was ready to sign up for a spree.

The site included a list of stores, monthly special offers, shopping hours, sales and events, directions, customer service, how to join their Club Platinum, a motor coach tour program, employment opportunities, area attractions and accommodations with links and return links from those sites, free brochures, coupons, other outlet centers across the country and leasing information.

For shop-and-stay groups the description was clearly organized and inviting:

“Upon arrival at the center by motor coach, passengers will be greeted by our staff and receive free coupon books, shopping bags and directories listing the locations of our stores. If your group is not arriving by motor coach, we will supply the group leader with these items ahead of time. The coupon vouchers are presented at the Woolrich store, for a free coupon book. Sign up for our Triple Tour Reward Program to receive a free $50.00 gift certificate to the Westbrook Factory Stores.”

Most of all, however, I was glad to know that while Waccamaw in its current form is evolving, a form of the store and its shop-and-stay tradition will be around for me to adopt into my future vacation plans.