Las Vegas is the New Mall of America
Given a national tidal wave of retailer bankruptcies and thousands of store closures, why does the Las Vegas Strip defy all odds and increasingly look like the new Mall of America?
Las Vegas used to be called “Sin City.”
Now, it’s “Shopping City.”
The iconic decorative fountains outside in front of Caesars Palace are now obscured by a pop-up retail store hawking Samsung smartphones. The pirate ship at Treasure Island has been torn down and hauled away, replaced by a lousy barbecue joint with a mechanical bull. Every casino along Las Vegas Boulevard has a shopping mall or is connected to a shopping mall.
Indeed, everywhere you look up and down The Strip, there’s a trendy retail store or chain restaurant. Sales pests leap out of nowhere, begging to clean your jewelry or talk you into a miracle skin cream. Shopping has become so pervasive that it’s become increasingly difficult to find the way into a casino amidst a disorienting maze of overpriced clothing stores, perfume shops, gourmet burger bars, and kiosks selling
junk knick-knacks that nobody needs. Playing cards used to symbolize the Las Vegas experience. Now, it’s credit cards.
Even off The Strip, several so-called “outlet malls” packed with hundreds of retail stores cater almost exclusively to tourists. Near downtown, there’s a giant complex called Premium Outlets (which just announced plans to start charging to park, begging the question — who pays for parking just to shop?). South of Mandalay Bay, there’s an even bigger shopping outlet known as Town Square. Just south of that mall is another outlet mall named Las Vegas South Premium Outlets. Parking is still free there, at least for now.
Even the swarms of visitors who drive into Las Vegas from the west can’t escape the shopping craze. What’s the first thing you see when crossing the California-Nevada border? Not a casino. Answer: The Primm Outlet Mall. Who in the hell drives four hours from Los Angeles across the desert to swerve into Nordstrom Rack? Hmm, I guess there are no stores left in California.
Las Vegas doesn’t need Gamblers Anonymous. We need Shoppers Anonymous.
What’s truly baffling is this trend defies absolutely everything that’s happening across the rest of America. Retailers just about everywhere are in very serious trouble. More than 10,000 stores affiliated with national chains closed down last year. Retail bankruptcies are at an all-time high. More than 50 retailers have gone out of business just within the last year.
Toys R Us is bankrupt. Perfumania is bankrupt. Rue21 is bankrupt. Payless Shoes bankrupt. RadioShack is bankrupt. The Limited is bankrupt. Gymboree is bankrupt. Vitamin World is bankrupt. Aerosoles is bankrupt. Styles for Less is bankrupt. That’s the short list. READ MORE
K-Mart is about to be bankrupt. Sears is about to be bankrupt. JC Penny is about to be bankrupt. SteinMart is about to be bankrupt. Burlington is about to be bankrupt. Men’s Warehouse is about to be bankrupt. Joseph A. Bank is about to be bankrupt. That’s another short list. READ MORE
These are even worse times for shopping malls. They simply aren’t being built anymore. Not with Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and other retail giants offering far better value and easier convenience. Who wants to visit a mall and walk three miles to grab a few things when one megastore offers the same thing at a cheaper price — plus a hot dog and drink lunch for $1.50?
Of course, the real culprit in the demise of malls and retail stores is online shopping, and more specifically the explosion of Amazon. E-shopping has revolutionized consumer culture. It’s far easier to find the perfect replacement part or the ideal sweater on a home laptop and then have it delivered to our doorstep. No doubt, Amazon will continue cutting into the market share of brick and mortar retailers, which will increasingly find themselves following K-Mart into bankruptcy court.
So, given what’s happening everyplace else, why is Las Vegas such a mystifying exception? It makes no sense. It defies all logic.
Clearly, these retail stores on The Strip don’t offer any bargains. The prices for goods and services are usually much higher in casino malls than back at home. Sure, tourists will buy t-shirts and souvenirs. That’s to be expected. But who flies to Las Vegas on their vacation to purchase a smartphone? Or, a bottle of perfume? Or, a pair of pants? Or, a pair of sneakers? Or, any of the other millions of products for sale at a considerable markup?
One plausible theory is that most Las Vegas visitors expect to lose money. Hence, rather than blowing $1,200 at a craps table as the tourists used to do, by splurging on an $800 iPhone and $400 handbag instead, at least there’s something left to show for the act of self-indulgence.
Still, I can’t shake the undeniable fact that at least some (albeit small) percentage of gamblers depart the casino with more money than they started with. A very tiny number might even get rich. But everyone who walks into a shopping mall and then buys something loses money.
Why is Las Vegas so different when it comes to retail shopping? I can’t explain it.
Thoughts and feedback are welcome.
Correction / Update: I’ve been informed the Samsung store at Caesars is now gone. So, don’t rush there to buy the new Galaxy S9.