Friday, November 16, 2012

Run don't walk... your nearest Nordstrom. Although they are profitable and respected, Nordstrom is one of that dwindling species, the American department store. Despite the Macy-frying of America, department stores (even Macy's) are not what they used to be. For one thing there are less departments. One used to be able to furnish a home from basement water heater to attic fan at a department store, with many stops in between for rugs, lamps, furniture and drapes (not to mention the contents of your closets). The in-store travel agents, bookshops and hairdressers too are long gone.

There are 117 Nordstrom stores in America (plus an additional 110 discount Nordstrom Racks which don't count). They are not takeovers of old-line department stores as in the Macy's formula. Do you recognize a dearly departed in this list of the conquered-by-Macy's?
> Bullock's
> The Broadway
> Emporium
> Weinstock's
> May Company
> Robinson's
> I. Magnin
> Meier & Frank
> Bon Marche
> Foley's
> Jones Store
> Famous Barr
> L.S. Ayers
> Marshall Field's
> Lazarus
> Goldsmith's
> Hecht's
> Burdine's
> Kaufmann's
> Strawbridge's
> Bamberger's
> Stern's
> Rich's
> A&S
> Jordan Marsh
> Filene's

Depending on how dedicated a shopper you are, there may be a Nordstrom near you and you don't know it. They famously advertise but twice a year, for the Half-Yearly Sale and the Anniversary Sale. Holiday decorations go up Thanksgiving Day and are down the day after Christmas. There are no water heaters or attic fans (never were), but Nordstrom has one thing in very short supply in today's marketplace: customer service. I don't just mean the sales associates are nice (which they are), but the stores themselves are beautifully maintained, spaciously laid out, with a real honest-to-goodness live pianist at a baby grand on the first floor, restaurants with delicious food and restrooms you could live in.
The showman is not for show

A bit of Nordstrom history: The first store opened in Seattle in 1901. Called Wallin & Nordstrom, it sold only shoes. There were two Seattle stores by the time Wallin retired in 1929 (and sold his shares to the Nordstrom family). By 1958 Nordstrom had expanded to eight stores in two western states, still only selling shoes, thus becoming known as "The World's Largest Shoe Store". They are famous for bend-over-backwards customer service and the policy that any item may be returned at any time for any reason. To this day, if you wear shoes in two different (whole) sizes, Nordstrom will not charge you for the second pair.

Nordstrom back in the (shoe)day...
...and today

Expansion continued with the purchase of Best Apparel in 1983, resulting in today's mix of men's, women's and children's clothing, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry as well as a small range of home furnishings. Offerings run from the moderately priced to couture. Many in-house alterations are gratis. Associates are encouraged to develop relationships with customers and to "make the business their own". Nordstrom also has a strong internet presence offering free shipping and returns.

Still family owned, what Nordstrom doesn't have is a lot of buzz. They are not tastemakers or trend setters. Nevertheless management is very astute in who is their customer and buy for her/him accordingly. There's enough that you want and nothing that you don't want. And they do feature a tremendous selection of shoes.


  1. I grew up in Atlanta and going to Rich's was a weekly ritual, especially at Christmas. When it was sold to the Federated/Macy's monster it went downhill very quickly. I was heartbroken about losing so many traditions. Celestine Sibly wrote a book about Rich's and its place in the Atlanta community, "Dear Store". I'm sure this feeling applies to many on your list. Very sad indeed. Its good to know about Nordstrom. I don't think there is one near me (I no longer live in Atlanta) but will seek it out when I travel. Excellent post as always.

  2. I love Nordstrom. I go to the one in Charlotte and it's like shoe wonderland.

    It's rather sad that younger people have never experienced a real department store.

  3. I love nordstroms. There's one near me and I do most of my full price retail shopping there. They have great shoes and accessories. The clothing is selective, but they often have really great pieces. The one near me is pretty fashion forward. What I love is the feeling of shopping there. The customer service is great.

  4. So nice that y'all get what I meant to say. The shopping experience can be just as special as what it is you buy. You might get a kick out of this one, for nostalgia's sake:

  5. Shopping at Nordstroms is just a fabulous experience always. I like the ambiance, I like the return policy, and as you said- THE SHOES! I will totally rally with you to get people back into the department store. xo