Leonard said at the time that if the chain hit its goal of having 50 stores five years from now, half of those would be in outlet centers. He also noted during the interview that a number of high-end department store chains are moving more capital to outlet malls.

Back when I was working on the story, none of the spokespeople for any of the chains Leonard mentioned would comment directly on their outlet ambitions.

But, consider this: on its website right now under “Planned Locations,” Saks Fifth Avenue lists one full-price store opening, in 2015 and it’s not even in the continental United States. It’s in Puerto Rico. The other 10 planned locations are Off 5th stores.

And Nordstrom is busy expanding its network of discount Rack stores.

Since my interview earlier this year, the scenario has shifted for Bailey Banks & Biddle. Leonard and the other executives that revived the chain are gone, and Baltimore-based Smyth Jewelers now is managing the company. It is unknown at this point if the new management will continue in the same direction.

Still, the draw of outlet centers remains strong in these still economically troubled times, as consumers of all classes are on the lookout for the best deal. So it comes as no surprise that Sterling Jewelers, the country’s largest specialty jeweler, is making a bigger push into the outlet business.

Sterling announced early Wednesday that it is buying Ultra Stores Inc., which operates more than 140 Ultra Diamonds outlet stores as well as the jewelry sections in off-price department stores. (According to past reports, Ultra operated the jewelry departments in Burlington Coat Factory stores, and used to run jewelry for now-defunct Filene’s Basement.)

Sterling parent company Signet Jewelers Ltd. paid $57 million for the twice-bankrupt Ultra, which seems like a deal for a 100-plus store chain. (Just to put Ultra’s $57 million price tag in perspective: 22-year-old country-pop superstar Taylor Swift earned as much in a single year, according to Forbes, and diamantaire Laurence Graff paid only about $10 million less for a single diamond in 2010.)

A number of questions remained unanswered about the transaction, including whether these newly acquired stores will bear a Sterling brand name. But it is obvious that Sterling, considered one of the most well-run large chains in the industry, sees opportunity in outlet shopping.

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