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Jennifer Robison

Slam dunk for Las Vegas retail

21 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As president of Front Row Sports, Jim Simonson had courtside seats to the retail frenzy that beset Las Vegas with the weekend arrival of the National Basketball Association's All-Star Game.

Customers at Front Row, a sports memorabilia store inside Fashion Show mall on the Strip, were scooping up as many as 40 commemorative All-Star T-shirts at a time, Simonson said. The store boosted the number of employees on duty from the 10 workers it had during the busy New Year's weekend to 25 workers during All-Star Weekend. Front Row had to close several times on Saturday after crowds filled it to capacity. And Simonson had stocked up on $3,500 leather jackets featuring NBA team logos, expecting to sell about 10 of the items between Saturday and Sunday. He sold 45.

"I have never seen as many people, not only in our store but in our mall," Simonson said. "The crowd of traffic in Fashion Show mall was five times what it was at New Year's. I was at (All-Star in) Houston last year, and it wasn't even close."

The sales pace kept up into Monday, with 50 customers waiting outside Front Row before it opened at 9 a.m., Simonson said.

Simonson wouldn't disclose the sales Front Row rang up, but he said revenue for the store was up 200 percent when compared with Front Row's previous best sales period, which was at Christmas.

Simonson's tale might sound familiar to retailers, restaurateurs and hoteliers across Las Vegas, as they continued Tuesday to count up the cash they raked in catering to 85,000 tourists who came to town for All-Star Weekend.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs at MGM Mirage, said all of the restaurants and bars were crowded at the resort owner's 10 Strip properties. Separating how much of the higher business volume resulted from the All-Star events was difficult, though, Feldman said. Chinese New Year, the tail end of the Men's Apparel Guild in California trade show and a three-day Presidents Day weekend could all have goosed business for local resorts, he said.

"The crowds were everywhere," Feldman said.

Feldman was able to ascribe much of the business gains at one property specifically to the All-Star Game: He estimated that the NBA Jam Session, during which basketball fans can meet professional players, brought 75,000 people to Mandalay Bay through the weekend.

For one high-end car dealer on the Strip, All-Star Weekend drove a big spike in sales and traffic.

Exotic Cars at Caesars Palace moved about half a dozen luxury autos on Saturday -- a day when the business might normally sell one or two cars, said Patrick Searcy, the company's vice president of dealer operations.

Exotic Cars sold two Ferraris and two Lamborghinis. A Chrysler Maybach that went for more than $300,000 provided the dealership's single-biggest weekend sale, Searcy said. Buyers snapped up two Bentleys on Monday, and four to five more deals are pending while sales executives submit loan applications to banks for approval.

Searcy declined to disclose who bought cars at the dealership, but he did note that the store for most of the weekend was buzzing with NBA stars and entertainment executives, including Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics and hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, who worked on Beyoncé's newest album.

So why would someone buy such an extravagance during a vacation?

"It's not necessarily that they planned on coming in, but when you see one sitting in front of you that's extremely appealing, or when you see one that's similar to something you've been looking for for a period of time, it's pretty easy to pull the trigger," Searcy said.

At least one jeweler on the Strip credited improved sales to Chinese New Year rather than to All-Star Weekend.

Carolyn Hagopian, manager of the Fred Leighton Collection inside Bellagio, said weekend sales at the high-end jewelry store typically surge 25 percent to 50 percent during Chinese New Year. The revenue bump occurred on schedule over the weekend, but Fred Leighton didn't report purchasing volume above previous Chinese New Year holidays, Hagopian said.

The toughest part of handling the All-Star onslaught, Searcy said, was the coordination of media collecting nuggets for stories and TV shows. Several publications had reporters at Exotic Cars gathering comments and photos for front-cover articles, and numerous video crews were shooting at the dealership on Saturday, including one group taping footage for the pilot of a reality show.

"It was hectic," Searcy said. "When you're scheduling the media, things have a tendency to overlap."

For Front Row sports, Fashion Show's 9 p.m. closing time on Friday and 8 p.m. closing time on Saturday meant some lost business.

"The downside for most retailers had to have been the mall hours," Simonson said. "The mall hours should have been extended."

Those drawbacks didn't stop retailers from welcoming the All-Star events and its fans back to Las Vegas.

"It creates more activity," Searcy said. "It's just an exciting time, and it's exciting for tourists here. We have a mezzanine area where people can park themselves and watch what's occurring on the sales floor. People had a chance to see stars, celebrities and video crews. It's as much entertainment as anything else."