Coastal casino city goes shopping
Retailers and visitors have discovered a whole new side to gambling town.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- It used to be names like Bally's, Trump and Caesars that drew the people here.
These days, it's Brooks Brothers, Bass and Tommy Hilfiger.
Suddenly, this gambling mecca is getting into the retail game.
With two new shopping developments doing brisk business and a third set to open this summer, the city known for casino gambling and sandy beaches is rounding out its hand with upscale shops, boutiques and outlet stores.
Gamblers, conventioneers and others who have long complained about the lack of nongambling attractions now have some place beyond the beach -- and the slot machines -- to go.
"You need a break from gambling," said Paul Kacsmar, 40, of Wall Township, carrying shopping bags through The Quarter during a recent shopping spree. "You need the shopping. That's what people do on vacation -- go shopping, spend a little money, have some fun."
Despite its status as a major gambling destination with 35 million visitors a year, Atlantic City has never been known for its shopping.
The mom-and-pop clothing, electronics and shoe stores that line Atlantic Avenue serve mostly neighborhood residents, while the handful of jewelers and furriers who lease space inside the 12 casinos count mostly on high-rolling gamblers.
But the proliferation of shopping ventures in Las Vegas, the Borgata Hotel Casino & amp; Spa's success in luring new customers to the city and the casinos' desire to broaden their offerings have driven the new developments. Giving visitors to Atlantic City more than just casinos also makes sense as competition grows from legalized gambling in neighboring states.
On new ground
First, it was Atlantic City Outlets-The Walk, a 41-store shopping area developed by The Cordish Company, of Baltimore. The shopping area, which opened in August in a two-block area close to the casinos, has big-name stores with factory outlet prices -- Nautica, Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and Kenneth Cole among them.
Next, Tropicana Casino and Resort opened its Havana, Cuba-themed expansion, which is called The Quarter. The project, which is a three-story indoor streetscape lined with 25 stores, mixes names like Brooks Brothers, Chico's, and Swarovski with an IMAX theater, nightclubs and restaurants.
Despite opening in November, deep into Atlantic City's slow season, it has flourished, according to store owners and Tropicana officials.
And the biggest shopping project is yet to come.
Caesars Entertainment, the owner of three Atlantic City casinos, is spending $175 million to renovate a former pier into a lavish shopping-and-entertainment adjunct to its flagship Boardwalk casino.
The project, dubbed The Pier at Caesars, will feature 90 high-end retailers, including Hugo Boss, Armani and Burberry. It is scheduled to open early in 2006.
Persuading retailers to roll the dice on Atlantic City wasn't easy, though. Some doubted the viability of the market, which is dominated by day-tripping senior citizens and slot machine players who typically stay only a few hours when they come.
Others worried about security, citing crime and the town's ramshackle neighborhoods.
"Initially, it was hard. It was like 'You've got to be kidding,"' said Chuck Bragitikos, a principal in MRA Associates, a Philadelphia company that helped sign up tenants for The Quarter. "You had to overcome all these perceived negatives and get over the fact that there were no comparables, such as other malls or retail projects. The first thing retailers wanted to know was how the existing retailers were doing, but there weren't any, so we had to make our case in other ways."
The sheer number of people already visiting regularly, and the fact that millions more live within a 300-mile radius of Atlantic City, helped sway them.
"Retailers are constantly looking for ways to boost the traffic into their stores," said Richard Santoro, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association. "So from that standpoint, since Atlantic City's a destination for a variety of reasons, it's only a natural for retail."
Scott Gordon, president of Gordon Group Holdings LLC, Caesars' partner in developing The Pier at Caesars, said Atlantic City has realized there's money to be made off nongambling attractions like pricey restaurants, trendy nightclubs and retail.
"When you have this many millions of people coming, the only reason they're not staying is that there's nothing to do. You can't grow a market like this without having something besides gambling. Win or lose, people need diversions," said Gordon.
At Atlantic City Outlets-The Walk, the equation is slightly different.
Located on a two-block stretch of Michigan Avenue, it is not connected to a casino and resembles more of an old-fashioned downtown shopping district, not a mall.
Its spot a block away from the Atlantic City Convention Center, which hosts more than 60 conventions and trade shows annually, has translated to booming business.
Among the tenants: Ultra Diamonds, a 120-store Chicago chain with stores in Las Vegas and several other casino locales.
"We've been very pleased with the numbers," said Kim Meyer, senior vice president. "We're attracting a lot of the tourists who are there for conventions, and people who have winnings from the casinos. It's a natural for them to come over and buy a diamond."
So far, shoppers are impressed with all the new offerings.
"It changes the image of Atlantic City, to come here and do something besides gambling," said Lillian Sumpter, 73, of New York, who was in town with her husband for a two-night stay at Tropicana and found her way to Chico's, where she bought a jacket.
Kacsmar, a barber who visits Atlantic City three or four times a year, traveled 90 minutes from his home to check out the shopping at The Quarter.
"This is fun," he said, showing off the contents of his shopping bags, which included doggie goggles for his dog and a green-and-white knit New York Jets hat with flowing green and white faux dreadlocks. "I'm tired of going to Wal-Mart all the time."
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