Las Vegas Shopping

A shot glass with the "Welcome to Las Vegas" logo. Maybe a cheap T-shirt or a deck of used playing cards. Or for those favoring the terminally tacky, how about a famed dice clock? Those were the types of gifts tourists hauled home for decades. Or if purchasing something for themselves, figure on something gaudy, heavy on the sequins if you will.

While those dubious tokens of esteem remain for sale in mostly rundown gift shops sprinkled around and along the Strip, wily entrepreneurs aware of the power of internationally known name brands have turned Las Vegas into one of the world's hottest shopping meccas. Famed names such as Prada, Tiffany's, and Dior are luring well-financed shoppers into elaborately designed shopping arcades where quality has decidedly leaped over quantity.

There's hardly a recent vintage hotel-casino without its own set of upscale shops, and the trend can be traced to the 1992 opening of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace where shoppers stroll along indoor cobblestone walkways as an arched ceiling constantly transforms from dawn to dusk. Ongoing expansions at the Forum Shops—think Rodeo Drive in Rome—have become a must-see attraction that, in addition to name-brand outlets, provides entertainment from animatronic statues that come to life for boisterous performances. The nearby Fashion Show Mall has expanded to more than 250 stores tucked underneath a metallic "cloud" with digitalized lighting effects. It's connected by a walkway to Wynn Las Vegas, where the well-heeled can consider buying a new Ferrari—as long as it's either yellow or red.

Existing suburban malls such as Meadows Mall or the Boulevard continue to thrive and grow, but even Vegas locals make rare forays to the Strip to check out the pricey wares on display at themed shopping arcades such as the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Hotel-Casino, where they can window shop via gondola rides. Knowledgeable locals and tourists travel to the south area of the Strip to the Las Vegas Outlet Center (formerly Belz Outlet Mall) for discount deals on Bose sound equipment or Perry Ellis clothing, while those willing to brave a brief forty-five-minute trip to the Nevada/California border at Primm can find markdowns at Fashion Outlets Las Vegas. (Shuttle buses run from the MGM Grand hotel-casino for $15 round-trip).

Casino executives, constantly using surveys to divine the desires of their clientele, learned that gambling was no longer the only reason for visiting Las Vegas. Shopping, fine dining, and lavish production shows had become lures of their own, helping lead to the rapid rise of elaborate and expensive shopping outlets in the 1990s. Name-brand stores translated in any language, and many newer hotels included upper-end malls as part of their packages. The Bellagio went for a Euro-styled shopping area that features Tiffany and Armani, while the Rio reflects its Mardi Gras theme with shops that include a Voodoo-themed outlet.

After the Aladdin Hotel-Casino was purchased and renamed Planet Hollywood in April 2007, it toned down its Middle Eastern theme in favor of a more Americana approach at its Desert Passage mall. Meanwhile, the more modest Excalibur Hotel-Casino relies on its Realm shopping arcade that features gifts with a medieval bent, just as the MGM Grand's Star Lane Shops offers gifts that reflect its Golden Era of Hollywood theme. In most cases, access to a resort's shopping area requires a walk through its casino just in case customers might try to pay for their gifts by way of a hot slot machine.

Remnants of old-style Vegas shopping remain in the modest gift shops, and those seeking vintage clothing can turn to outlets such as The Attic (1018 Main St.) or the Buffalo Exchange (4110 Maryland Pkwy.). Folks who want to return home with a taste of over-the-top Las Vegas might also turn to Serge's Showgirl Wigs (953 E. Sahara Ave.), where something unique in turquoise is always in stock.

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