When Al Vendegna signed on as one of the Forum Shops at Caesars' first tenants in 1992, many of his friends told him he had committed a major blunder.
"People looked at the (faux) sky and the talking statues and thought it was too gimmicky and wouldn't last," Vendegna recalled. "But I really hit the jackpot."
As someone who started in Las Vegas 46 years ago as a casino dealer, however, he knew the winning skein would fizzle sometime.
That sometime turns out to be Monday afternoon, Memorial Day, when he will turn out the lights at his West of Santa Fe southwestern crafts and jewelry store, not only one of the mall's original shops but also one of the handful not owned by a chain.
In a stretch of the mall dominated by high-fashion names such as Bulgari, Michael Kors, Devi Kroell and David Yurman, West of Santa Fe stood as the odd man out with its antique revolvers, turquoise belt buckles and buffalo-hide end tables.
"I've known for years that eventually I would have to move to a different location when my lease ran out," Vendegna said of what is known in the mall industry as remerchandising. "That's life when you are dealing with the heavyweights."
He was prepared to close a year ago but unexpectedly worked out a 12-month extension to his lease.
Forum Shops spokeswoman Maureen Crampton said negotiations are under way with another fashion tenant she did not identify to take West of Santa Fe's 2,800-square-foot space.
"Consumers find it more convenient to have similar stores located in clusters," she said.
Other factors came into play. The once-widespread interest in the Southwestern motif has cooled in recent years, while upscale malls have proliferated on the Strip.
Furthermore, Vendegna has paid basically the same rent since his original lease, about $350,000 a year including common-area charges. But he estimated that would have tripled if he renewed his lease now.
"In the old days, I probably could have paid the (higher) rent because the Forum Shops was the only game in town," he said. "Now, the dollars are so spread out that I couldn't afford the rent anyway."
Mall management offered Vendegna another spot to occupy at least temporarily, but he turned it down. The lower foot traffic in the proposed area, combined with a tenancy that might have run less than a year did not make it financially worthwhile for him to take down and reassemble the store's decor, such as the hand-painted ceiling beams.
The 68-year-old Vendegna is telling shoppers he will reopen within the coming year and will scout locations not only in the Forum Shops but elsewhere on the Strip.
Until then, he will sell online at www.westofsantafe.com and open a retail outlet in Albuquerque, N.M., where he also has the offices of the Golden Eagle Trading Co.
The prices at West of Santa Fe often run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, but Vendegna purchases merchandise from American tribes and not cheaper sources like Pakistan, which makes Southwestern-style items such as baskets.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290.