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ICSC: Live from Vegas!

We asked S.F. retail gurus to fill us in on what's happening in Vegas right now (aside from heavy hangovers) and we also got some intel from our DC reporter, who's on the show floor as we speak and keeps hearing the buzzwords growth and expansion.

Today marks day two of the international retail convention, with an eighth of its 40,000 attendees hailing from California, including S.F. resident and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone who was yesterday's keynote speaker. Local retail expert John Cumbelich just told us this morning there's an ongoing explosion of QSRs, which spells the gradual demise of large format sit-down restaurants. One example is Darden's announcement Friday to sell its Red Lobster chain to Golden Gate Capital. In addition, grocery continues to see more new distribution formats, John says. A few he name drops are Aldi, Sprouts, Fresh Market, Smart & Final, City Target, and Super Walmart. Last night, emcee pro Howie Mandel (who also continues to see more new distribution formats) at the sold-out ICSC Foundation Gala Dinner at the Encore at Wynn. This year's conference is no doubt the busiest since the recession, according to ICSC's Jesse Tron.

The day before she jet-setted to Vegas, Colliers national director of retail services Anjee Solanki told us ICSC sure seems heavily focused on tech and retail this year. (Last month we interviewed her in her S.F. office about five retail stories to watch.) New this year on the floor is the Coca-Cola Happiness Lounge, where attendees can chug some caffeine and hear talk sessions on topics like social storytelling, viral videos, and how retailers are embracing technology. At the top of everyone's minds? How to manage and optimize omni-channel retailing as more realize the opportunity it provides, says Jesse. After the recession people worried about the rise of e-commerce, but we are now at a point where mall managers and landlords realize it's an enhancement to the overall shopping experience.

While many we've asked are cautiously watching this fall's election, it doesn't stop them from crowding the 1,000 booths in search of transactions. Larger firms like Brookfield have big, techy booths to fuel dealmaking, as national director of retail leasing Ed Hogan showed us. (Time for a quick game of World of Warcraft?) Brookfield debuted its first acquisition in S.F. last year, 685 Market. Ed's been leasing up tons of space in high profile properties in LA (FIGat7th) and NY (Brookfield Place). The former is a repositioned mall (acquired via Trizec) where Ed scored the nation's first City Target as an anchor, while the latter is in the giant buildings of Lower Manhattan formerly known as the World Financial Center, counting luxury brands like Ferragamo and Burberry as new tenants.

SoCal shopping center leasing and sales expert Michael Lagazo sent us this shot of the packed convention center floor moments ago, telling us that Sears/Kmart and Staples/Office Depot are doing deals with other large format users to shed their boxes. Making centers more experiential is key, Jesse says; adding entertainment options and services into the mix is happening more and more. The shopping center is now a place to go and have coffee with friends or sit down at a restaurant with white tablecloths, he says. Shopping center employment across S.F.'s congressional district is among the highest of any in the state, according to figures provided by ICSC.