Not old enough to play the slots, but with plenty of time to shop, teenagers visiting Sin City will soon have a plethora of choices at which to make their purchases.

Ding, ding, ding. Teen retailers are poised to hit the jackpot once they catch a piece of the third most popular pastime in Las Vegas after gambling and entertainment: shopping.

Starting this fall, Quiksilver, Zara and Urban Outfitters, among several other youth-oriented retailers, will for the first time cast their nets out to some 35 million visitors Sin City attracts per year.

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, some 10 percent of those tourists are age 21 and under. And in the latest tallies, the group accounted for $290 million worth of shopping in 2002, a figure observers say will only swell as travel fears continue to abate. (Local teens, who prefer to stay clear of the tourist-crowded Strip, contribute minimally to annual retail sales, LVCVA said.)

“There was a time — say, 20 years ago — when the focus was on gaming and little else,” said Rob Powers, a spokesman for the LVCVA. “There’s no question that Las Vegas is now perceived as a true world-class destination for shopping. More young people are here, but it’s all part of the evolution and diversification of this city.”

Britney Spears, ’NSYNC and Jessica Simpson already regularly deliver concerts here. But teen retailers, who have long viewed it as primarily an adult destination with a corner on the luxury market, have been relatively slow to catch on.

Precious few malls here offer a sizable roster of teen retailing. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, arguably one of the most frequented shopping spots on the Strip, notching 54,000 visitors daily, is home to only three: Abercrombie & Fitch, Diesel and Express.

Most of the action is on the north end of the Strip at Fashion Show Mall, where Guess, Rampage and No Fear operate units. More are on the way. Undergoing a $1 billion renovation and expansion, the mall has signed leases with some veterans from local malls — Hot Topic, Diesel and Wet Seal — as well as several newcomers.Though nary a beach in sight, Gregg Solomon, senior vice president of retail for Quiksilver, acknowledged the opportunities can no longer be ignored. He confirmed the company’s first store here will bow at Fashion Show by mid-October, with a visible 4,000-square-foot unit on the Strip.

“We’re hoping to capture some of Vegas’ visitor numbers with our brands,” he said, noting a complete lineup of Roxy and Quiksilver merchandise could pull in annual sales of between $800 and $1,000 a square foot by 2006. “We’re looking for selected opportunities to do stores, and the ones that we do, we want to make them count.”

As such, plans for the store are as grand as the Quiksilver outpost in Times Square in Manhattan, where doors swung open in March. On Las Vegas Boulevard, there will be 50 feet of street frontage with neon lights beaming the brand’s identity to passersby. Two floor-to-ceiling columns overflowing with water will mark the store’s entrance. And inside, a permanent installation of about 50 backlit white surfboards will adorn the store’s ceiling.

Zara, Spain’s fast-fashion emporium, is also pulling out the stops for its first entry west of the Mississippi, slated for December. Executives at the company confirmed the retailer will open a whopping two-level, 12,000-square-foot store at Fashion Show, but declined to offer further details.

The ink is barely dry on a lease Abercrombie & Fitch signed here, too, for a projected January opening of a 6,000-square-foot Hollister unit. Executives from A&F did not return phone calls as of press time.

The area’s lure is likewise not lost on Greg Weaver, chairman and ceo of PacSun, a retailer that has operated in local malls for the last 15 years. “It’s probably one of the most vibrant and healthy markets in the U.S., and it’s been this way for a long time,” he said. In October, PacSun will unveil its first unit in the area, a 4,000-square-foot store at Fashion Show that is expected to pull in between $2.5 million and $3.5 million its first year.

Weaver is equally enthusiastic about placing more units in outlying malls where locals prefer to shop. Demo, the company’s urban concept, will bow in several locations, including The Boulevard Mall, by April 2004, he said. “Most retailers are realizing the [city’s] constant growth with people moving there from all over the U.S. as well as affordable housing and income tax rates.”At the Strip’s south end, Mandalay Place will add some 100,000 square feet of retailing by November in an enclosed skyway connecting Mandalay Bay to the Luxor Resort Hotel and Casino.

The Mandalay-Luxor mall, under discussion for at least four years and under construction for over a year, is easily visible from the Strip, as well as to anyone driving underneath the structure. Mandalay Resort Group has so far been tight-lipped about the 38 upcoming retailers.

But Urban Outfitters president Ted Marlow told WWD he chose a 10,000-square-foot space there, not just because of its central location but because exit surveys in Urban’s California stores indicated there is a significantly heightened interest in Vegas among the 18-to-28-year-old set.

“It’s a big change from even 10 to 15 years ago,” he said. “Teens enjoy free time in Vegas. And there was a lot of positive conversation about the Mandalay Bay, the House of Blues and [nearby] Hard Rock venues. It fit our customer profile.”

Marlow expects the store to pull in between $5 million and $8 million its first year of business, or between $500 and $800 a square foot.

While most teen retailers are entering newly constructed retail projects, even the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, with its roster of mostly luxury stores, cannot deny a youthful renaissance. Maureen Crampton, marketing director, has witnessed more and more teens pulling out their wallets for big-ticket items from Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, a trend backed up by this reporter’s first-hand accounts in early August. Crampton noted, “Teenagers have a wonderful amount of disposable income, and they appreciate being taken seriously.”

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