Sporting a pirate-style bandana and a bedazzled maroon-and-gold vest, the guy behind the counter of Marash Authentic Turkish Ice Cream is no ordinary dessert slinger.
In a one-man show of sorts, he moves quickly, playfully teasing patrons as the pop-music hit “Gangnam Style” blasts from a speaker and draws a crowd.
The ice cream parlor is at Grand Bazaar Shops, a new retail plaza on the Strip whose developers are betting that, with a not-so-ordinary property, they’ll grab shoppers and tenants in a crowded field that’s only getting more crammed.
Grand Bazaar Shops, in front of Bally’s at the southeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, opened in February. The outdoor mall has about 120 storefronts — some just 150 square feet — squeezed onto 2 acres and selling a hodgepodge of products, including posters, hot sauce, jewelry, temporary tattoos, luggage, clothing, alcohol-infused chocolates and fried Oreos.
“Shopping and retail are all about dwell time — how much time people are going to spend at a project,” said Larry Siegel, the mall’s lead developer. “You have to have a lot of different kinds of activities and a lot of different kinds of uses.”
Gambling is losing its luster in Las Vegas as tourists increasingly bypass casino floors to dine, shop and party in nightclubs. Last year, 71 percent of visitors gambled, down from 80 percent in 2010, according to GLS Research, in a report for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Visitors last year spent about $282 each on food and drinks per trip, up from $257 in 2010, and $150 on shopping, up from $123 four years earlier, GLS found.
Siegel and other investors are spending big dollars to capture their attention — and, more importantly, their wallets.
Recent or current retail projects on the Strip include the Linq, a $550 million open-air complex with more than 30 shopping, dining and entertainment options; the Park, a $100 million outdoor plaza with bars, restaurants and retail; and a three-story mall at Treasure Island.
Existing malls on the Strip include Fashion Show, Showcase Mall, Grand Canal Shoppes, Miracle Mile Shops, Forum Shops at Caesars, and Shops at Crystals.
Siegel, 62, is chairman of Potomac, Md.-based Juno Property Group. He's the former chairman and CEO of mall operator Mills Corp., which was bought out in 2007, the year after he stepped down as chief executive.
Grand Bazaar Shops is his first project in Las Vegas, and his investors include Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns Bally’s and the ground underneath the new mall.
Siegel recently met there with the Sun to talk about the project and the Strip’s retail scene. Edited excerpts:
When you announced the project in December 2013, you talked a lot about how you wanted to emulate the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul and open-air markets around the world. Was that still the goal as you built this out or did you move away from that?
I don’t think we tapered back. Every time you open something, you have to look at where we are in the world of retail. The landscape has changed considerably in the past year and a half and especially since I got in the business. You’ve got to create something that is different and unique.
What got you interested in doing a deal out here? How did this come about?
This site has been sitting here for a long time. It’s on the 50-yard line of Las Vegas Boulevard. If you type into Google Earth “Las Vegas Strip,” the pin drops right here. This was a park with a moving sidewalk down the middle of it. It was a no-brainer figuring out that it wasn’t the highest and best use. It was a matter of sitting down with Caesars and talking to them about what might work here. I come to Vegas for retail conventions and for other reasons, to see what’s going on in the world of retail. This has always been sitting here.
Had you thought over the years of doing a deal in Las Vegas?
I had. If I was to do something, it would have been on the Strip. When I was at Mills, we bid on a couple of things on the Strip but didn’t win.
This mall has a lot of small shops. Did you want to be able to sign retailers who can only afford smaller spaces?
There are two things that grab people: one is price, the other is selection. This is a 2-acre site. Typically, you build a regional mall on 90 acres or so, 1 million to 1.5 million square feet. This is about 60,000 to 65,000 square feet. The smaller stores give people more selection. I grew up in the department-store business. The main floors of department stores really emulate the old bazaars — they’re exciting, interactive places with lots of different subtenants. We wanted to make this attractive to consumers walking by, with an array of prices.
I heard there was supposed to be an area of the mall with haggling and no pre-set prices.
Swarovski has a haggling window. It’s called the Sparkle Exchange.
Much of the ground-up construction on the Strip lately has been retail. Do you worry about the increased competition?
No, because a lot of those projects are food- and beverage-centric. This is a place where you can come and buy something, affordably, for the most part.
Do you think there’s too much retail on the Strip?
I think there’s a lot of retail. But I think it’s incumbent upon everybody to try and be different and offer something special to the consumer.
Do you think there’s too much being built?
We just hit all-time visitor records last year with more than 41 million people. The thing that’s interesting about Vegas is every three or four days, you get new consumers. You’re always new and unique, so we probably have more retail here than in other places.