- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

LAS VEGAS — Maureen Crampton, marketing director for a luxury shopping mall at Caesar’s Palace, stood behind the closed doors just before opening day in 1992 and thought to herself, “I do hope somebody is on the other side.”

She need not have worried.

More than a decade later, the Forum Shops is one of the most successful malls in the country, and high-end shopping has become one of the biggest pastimes in America’s gambling capital.

Gucci, Prada and Dior are now neighbors along a gilded stretch of the Bellagio hotel-casino. Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom anchor the expansive Fashion Show mall farther down the Las Vegas Strip. Boutiques such as Burberry, Mikimoto and Jimmy Choo are inside the Venetian hotel-casino.

“Shopping has become an incredible part of the allure of Las Vegas,” said Las Vegas historian Hal Rothman.

The 36 million tourists who visited Las Vegas last year spent an estimated $2.9 billion shopping. Guests now can pamper themselves with a $165 facial, dine on a $60 Kobe beef burger and buy a $1,570 Christian Dior handbag without ever going across the street.

“Shopping is one chance for the casinos to recapture some of the money they paid out to the winners,” said Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “If you have millions of people visiting, walking by, all you have to do is capture a small percentage of them to be profitable.”

One reason for the appeal of Las Vegas’ luxury stores is that they welcome casually dressed shoppers who would get the bum’s rush if they showed up looking that way on Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

The Forum Shops, where a three-story spiral escalator whisks customers high above Italian marble flooring, produces sales at about four times the nationwide average based on store square footage.

The luxury Wynn Las Vegas resort opening next year will have the Strip’s first car dealership, where only Maseratis and Ferraris will be sold, as well as shops by Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik, Cartier, Jean Paul Gaultier and Oscar de la Renta.

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