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Foxwoods Bets on Retail

Harriet Jones
The concourse now has floor-to-ceiling glass facades
"It’s not a static industry. You’ve got to stay on top of what’s out there, because your guests’ expectations drive every single decision you make."<br><em>Annette DeBois</em>

Foxwoods unveils its newly revamped retail concourse on Friday, the first of two big retail projects the gaming giant has in progress.

There’s been a collection of stores beside the Great Cedar Hotel at Foxwoods since the early 1990s, a mini-mall that was originally built to mimic a quaint New England village. Three years ago, management decided it was time for a new look.

“What we wanted to do was really maximize the vista here with the windows on the concourse,” said Annette DeBois, who’s in charge of retail for the gaming giant. She said they’ve gone for a much more modern look in the $15 million facelift. “We have floor-to-ceiling glass facades in the stores, instead of the little house fronts that used to be there.”

Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR
Last-minute construction before the grand opening.

It’s not only the style that’s changed. The previous 12 stores have been pared down to 9, and there are new names — Activa Kicks will be the first athletic shoe store at Foxwoods. “It was the number one request from guests on property is that they wanted to buy sneakers," said DeBois. "A property of this size, more than seven million square feet, you can understand why someone would want to buy sneakers, because it’s a mile from one end to the other if you’re walking through the casino.”   

Once you’ve worked off some calories, you can put them right back on at candy store Sugar Rush, which features a four-foot rock candy chandelier. Other stores offer Native American handcrafts, fashion accessories, grooming products, and kids' books and toys.

In the middle of the concourse is the food court, where you can drink Starbucks, eat a lobster roll or buy a slice of Regina’s pizza. Food and beverage manager Jens Bakke said the Boston chain was chosen from among 25 New England pizza legends - potentially a controversial decision. “The executive chef and I went there and tasted them all," said Bakke, "and sorry Connecticut, it was not Modern Apizza, or Pepes — we felt that the pie dough of Regina’s was the best, and we brought it here.”

Bakke said in making those tricky decisions about what stores and restaurants to partner with, Foxwoods can also now turn to social media. “You send out a Facebook — what would be your new favorite restaurant — what would you want to envision? It could be within two hours we have a thousand responses.” 

Credit Harriet Jonesq / WNPR
A four-foot rock candy chandelier, because, why not?

Why are stores worth so much planning and effort at what’s primarily a gaming destination? Bakke said retail is no longer just a fun extra in a place like Foxwoods. “The casino industry has undergone a fundamental shift over the last ten years,” he said. It’s been deeply challenged by the loss of people’s disposable income in the recession, and it’s also suddenly become a whole lot more competitive with New York and Rhode Island adding venues.

That means Foxwoods has to give people a reason to drive an extra couple of hours from out of state. Bakke said experiences like golf, fine dining and shopping, can make the difference. “Those are things that create emotion, that create an intent to return or to stay longer, and it becomes more and more important strategically to be able to offer that and tell our guests — you know what, even if you’re not planning on gambling today, or ever, there’s still so many more things that you can do.”

Annette DeBois said in hospitality and gaming, standing still isn’t an option. “It’s not a static industry. You’ve got to stay on top of what’s out there, because your guests’ expectations drive every single decision you make, and if someone else out there has a newer product or the latest and greatest restaurant, you’re continually trying to play catchup.”

After Friday's grand reopening of the concourse, the casino giant is betting even bigger on retail for the future. Still under construction is a new $115 million, 300,000 square-foot outlet mall, which will debut at Foxwoods next May.