Developers spent the better part of two decades building Las Vegas into a retail mecca.
So surely, the Strip houses a retail store for every taste and budget, right?
Well, not exactly. Texas clothing retailer Walter Pye is on his way out West to fix what he says is a noticeable hole in Las Vegas retail. Come Sept. 8, Pye will open Pinto Ranch, a seller of high-end Western wear. How high-end? Think handmade leather or crocodile cowboy boots starting at $400 and ranging up to $4,000. Or hand-engraved, silver and gold belt buckles for $1,100. Or even $180 "cowgirl" flip-flops studded with turquoise and Swarovski crystals.
"We have a niche no one covers in Las Vegas. It's a retail mecca and there's not a single better Western wear store in Las Vegas, which was hard for me to believe," said Pye, who's opening his first Pinto Ranch store outside the Lone Star State. "You do have Western stores there, but we start at the top end. We start where the other stores leave off."
Pinto Ranch is part of a bumper crop of new tenants at General Growth Properties' Fashion Show shopping center on the Strip. Fifteen new tenants have signed leases so far this year, and the property is negotiating another eight with restaurants, clothing stores and accessories dealers. Like Pinto Ranch, some of those retailers are bringing new concepts to the local market.
Superdry, a clothing retailer based in the United Kingdom, opened its sixth U.S. store, and its first Las Vegas location, at Fashion Show in March. Australian clothier Cotton On is entering Las Vegas with stores at Fashion Show and General Growth's Boulevard Mall. Danish shoe and accessories retailer Ecco has two locations at local outlet malls, but opened its first full-price store in Las Vegas at Fashion Show in early May.
Other new retailers at Fashion Show include sunglasses retailer Oakley, jewelry store Tiffany & Co., shoe retailer Chinese Laundry and clothing retailers Finish Line, Zumiez, Levi's, True Religion and True Religion Kids. Restaurants Starbucks, Chipotle and Red Velvet Cafe also agreed to leases at the center. Once 2011's new leases become new stores, Fashion Show's occupancy rate will jump to 99 percent, up from a typical 96 percent to 98 percent, said Laurie Paquette, a vice president of asset management for General Growth. She added that the company hasn't lowered rents or offered concessions to close new deals.
It's an unusual amount of leasing action for the shopping center, and it comes as Strip observers point to improving mall sales and foot traffic up and down the resort corridor.
Paquette attributed Fashion Show's new business to tenants boosting leasing activity. None of the spaces Fashion Show has recently leased were empty for long, Paquette said. For example, Fashion Show is building new space for Red Velvet Cafe in space formerly used for a concierge desk. And Superdry immediately took over space that clothing retailer Bebe abandoned when it discontinued its PH8 sport-wear concept in early 2011, pulling the plug on nearly 50 stores nationwide.
Leasing activity isn't the only indicator rising at Fashion Show. Sales and traffic at the center stopped their recession-related fall-off in September and October, began improving during the holidays and continued to improve into the new year. In recent months, the center has seen double-digit percentage increases in year-over-year traffic and sales, Paquette said.
"People are out and starting to shop again. I think people are feeling a little more stable," she said.
John Knott, executive vice president of the local office of commercial real estate brokerage CB Richard Ellis and head of the company's Global Gaming Group, said Strip shopping centers are also seeing better sales and traffic. He agreed that the worst has likely passed for Strip retail.
"Unless we go into a double-dip recession, we are in a recovery period. We're seeing retail sales start to pick up, average daily room rates are increasing gradually, we're seeing a slight increase in occupancy levels and there's certainly been an increase in convention business," Knott said. "Hopefully, we're at the beginning, and we can look back a year from now and say, 'That was when recovery was well under way.' "
Knott called leasing activity at Fashion Show "good," and said it's always positive to bring new retailers to the market. He noted that most other Strip centers haven't had the level of "available turnover" that Fashion Show has experienced.
That turnover could continue into 2012. The center opened its Great Hall expansion in 2002, and many of the 10-year leases retailers signed on space in the hall expire next year. The majority of those retailers should renew, Paquette said, but Fashion Show's leasing managers expect to draw replacement tenants fresh to Las Vegas.
"We really want to stay focused on retailers who are new to the market, and who are spot-on with fashion and moving it forward," Paquette said.
Knott said he expects Strip retail to improve further in coming months and years, though most new growth will come among "Main Street" concepts rather than the "super high end," Knott said. Retailers plan far ahead, he noted, and even though the economic recovery hasn't yet gone full-steam ahead, store operators will pick up local space in the next 12 months to 18 months if they find good locations. Consider P.J. Clarke's, a New York pub that opened its first West Coast location Jan. 8 in the Forum Shops at Caesars. The eatery shopped the market for space for about seven years before it settled in at Caesars, Knott said.
Pye, of Pinto Ranch, tells a similar story. He first visited the Strip on his honeymoon in 1964, staying at the Tropicana. He's visited the city annually in most years since. He'd mulled opening a store here for years, he said, but he didn't find what he was looking for until now. He said he appreciated that Fashion Show's leasing executives understand independent merchants such as Pinto Ranch, because most major malls ignore small boutiques and gravitate instead to major national retailers. Pye also wanted Fashion Show's mix of tourists and locals, a ratio that Paquette said runs about 70-30 these days.
Said Pye: "We think it's just the right timing and the right spot for us."
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or 702-380-4512.