Plenty of ink has been spilled about Las Vegas' transformation from vice central into a retail, dining, and entertainment mecca (tomorrow's installment will focus on R&R Partners, the agency that helped brand it that way). According to a survey of Las Vegas visitors last year, the average person spent $136 dollars shopping while they were here (up from $97.25 in 2003). When multiplied by the city's 38.5 million visitors last year, that's a $5.2 billion business.
Starting luxury trend
The Forum Shops hit Vegas' luxury-retail scene early on, opening in 1992. The mall is among the most successful in the country, with average sales per square foot scraping $1,500 (the national average is closer to the $300) and attracting 50,000 shoppers on a good day. It's since been joined in the city by shopping destinations like the Fashion Show Mall, Desert Passage and Mandalay Place. In addition, mini malls lure shoppers at each of the major hotels on the Strip.
But I wanted to see why the Forum Shops still reigned over all of them. Although not owned by Harrah's Entertainment, the corporate parent of Caesars, the Forum Shops mirror the hotel's Roman motif. It seemed fitting to see Italian brands like Gucci, Versace and Ferragamo housed in colonnaded temples, but I still couldn't see where the mall's powers of persuasion were emanating from.
"The rules -- architectural rules or otherwise -- don't apply in Las Vegas," Block had told me. "You can get away with things you can't anywhere else. The mindset is so different here -- you go to Las Vegas with the mindset that you're going to spend money. ... There isn't a store or retailer who can tell you that a store in Vegas doesn't work."
Block's assertion raised two questions: What creates that mindset, and can it be exported out of Vegas? I hoped to have at least the start of an answer to the first after my visit with R&R Partners, but for an answer to the second, I attended Monday afternoon's International Council of Shopping Centers spring convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center and listened to a standing-room-only presentation titled "Lifestyle Centers: Is New Urbanism the Next Wave?" Lifestyle centers are the open-air, mixed-use developments bringing Jane Jacobs-style urbanism to what would otherwise be suburban malls.
One of the hallmarks of a successful "lifestyle center," they agreed, was the psychic shift from "core shopping to resort shopping," i.e. "observing the theater and drama of resort shopping and re-creating it in an urban setting." An audience member involved with the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai -- currently the world's third largest -- testified that families were flying to Dubai and never leaving his creation, which includes two hotels, the famous "Ski Dubai" indoor slope, a 14-screen movie theater, a performance space that seats 500 and 19 sit-down restaurants. The crowd oohed and aahed as he described vacations that lasted four or five days under one roof.
And yet, these developers didn't seem to realize (or at least it was never spoken openly) the giant debt he owed to Vegas. Having visited the Mall of the Emirates myself, I now see nothing but similarities between the faux-Parisian streets of that mall and the faux-acropolis of the Forum Shops at Caesars. And the endless array of restaurants, spectacles and theaters in the Mall of Emirates is a retail-and-entertainment strategy that seems to have been plucked from The Strip.
Whether it receives the credit or not, Vegas' retail DNA has already been set loose upon the world, and may be coming soon to the new mall nearest you.