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We like bargains. We enjoy congratulating ourselves on not paying full retail price. And so we were lured to spend our money in Ventura County, where we don't live, rather than Los Angeles County, where we do. In his book The Reluctant Metropolis, William Fulton, an urban planner, calls the Camarillo Premium Outlets and the surrounding area "Sales Tax Canyon," arguing that by freezing taxes on personal property, Proposition 13 gave cities incentive to develop ugly clusters of outlet malls along the freeways in order to compete for Californians' sales tax spending.

We have generally been suspicious of outlet shopping, though not primarily for its urban-planning effects. Often, the supposedly bargain prices are higher than what you'd pay at a good sale at a normal outpost of a given store. Recently, though, were convinced by a bargain-hungry friend to make the trek to Camarillo a weekday roadtrip. In many cases, our suspicions held true, but there were some real deals on stuff we actually needed.