Vegas Trinket Shops Beckon Low-Rollers, Kitsch-Hounds

Reed Travel Features contributing editor Amy Baratta shopped until she dropped in some of Las Vegas' souvenir establishments. Her report follows:

LAS VEGAS -- Looking at the variety and number of stores, shops and boutiques that have popped up in casinos and malls here, you might say that, after gaming, shopping is the second-most popular pastime here. Makes sense, doesn't it? After all, what's the use of winning all that money in the slot machines or at the blackjack table if you don't have anywhere to spend it?

Take, for instance, the upscale Tower of Jewels shop in the newly renovated Harrah's. All that glitters here is real, and they have the price tags to prove it. In fact, according to one sales associate, the biggest-ticket item sold so far was a $200,000 diamond-and-emerald necklace.

That's OK if you're a high roller, but what if you just want something for a special someone back home that says, "I was thinking of you while I was taking a break from gambling?" That's where the much maligned yet very interesting, old-fashioned souvenir shop comes in to play.

After an afternoon of poking my head into six or eight such establishments -- a very unscientific survey, if you will -- I'm convinced that I saw just about every item that could have the words "Las Vegas" emblazoned on it. From nail clippers and back scratchers to bumper stickers and T-shirts, the array of merchandise seemed endless -- and very inexpensive.

The nail clippers were a bargain at $1.95, as was a pair of tiny black dice made into earrings. They set me back a whopping $1.49. Some stores even had those special displays for patrons over the age of 21. X-rated playing cards, mugs and other novelty items, I learned, carry a higher price tag than their not-so-explicit counterparts. Even the price of a lowly ballpoint pen, usually less than $2, suddenly inflates to $2.99 if the writing instrument in question carries pictures of fully dressed people whose clothes fall off when you turn the pen upside down. (I guess entertainment has its price.)

However, amid all the post cards, coffee cups, magnets and miniature slot machines that I inspected, one item I saw stood apart from the rest. It was a tiny bottle of bubbles -- the kind that comes with a wand inside -- in a container shaped like a church. What an ingenious -- not to mention convenient -- way to celebrate those spur-of-the-moment vows taken in one of the city's myriad wedding chapels. Compared with the cost of rice these days, which is considered environmentally unfriendly anyway, it was a steal at only $1.99.

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