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Wednesday, September 18, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bankruptcy Day Is A Sad Day For Frederick's

"What's going to happen to Santa?"

That, among others, was the first question on the lips of one shopper at Frederick & Nelson after hearing the news that the chain has sought bankruptcy-court protection from its creditors.

For others, like one in the nearly empty Aurora Village store, there was sadness. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," she said.

Workers and shoppers reacted generally with sadness and questions yesterday when they learned that the grand dame of retail department stores in the Seattle area had sought Chapter 11 protection.

Santa - for some the real Santa - was one question. Generations have brought their children to sit on Santa's knee in the window of Frederick's downtown store.

And not just Santa. Frango mints . . the Tearoom . . . THE place to get those first Mary Janes . . a prom dress . . a boy's first suit . . . the bride's mother's dress . . .

Luckily, Santa is not in bankruptcy. He'll still be there. And probably much of what people remember most about the chain will remain the same. But for now, there was some sadness among the shoppers and concern among the workers worried about their jobs.

Downtown, the flagship store was quiet yesterday afternoon.

Marile Simpson, a clerk in the shoe department, seemed relieved that the bankruptcy had ended a chapter of uncertainty.

"It's sad in a way, but it's good, too," she said. "The vendors will start shipping again."

Hilde Bach, a Seattle resident who has shopped at the store for many years, was not so upbeat. But the bankruptcy will not stop her from shopping at Frederick & Nelson.

"It makes me sad. I don't want to see it go under," she said. "I remember bringing my children here to see Santa."

Others will not miss Frederick's.

At the sparsely stocked Frederick & Nelson at the Tacoma Mall, very few customers were saddened to hear the store will close Sunday.

"We love Mervyn's," said Kathy Namy, of Puyallup. "We don't mind giving up Frederick & Nelson."

Managers and owners of other stores located near Frederick & Nelson in the mall were not surprised to hear of the bankruptcy. Most derided Frederick & Nelson as being stuffy and out of date, and they said the store is never busy. All of them welcomed the news that Mervyn's would replace it.

Beth Jenero, manager of Mariposa, a women's specialty-clothing store, said Frederick & Nelson has been hurting her business. "A lot of people don't know we're here," she said. "They only go as far as Nordstrom."

Throughout the stores in the Frederick & Nelson chain, employees were getting the word yesterday on what was happening.

In a small room on the eighth floor of the downtown Seattle store 10 employees gathered to hear the announcements.

"There will be layoffs," the manager said. "This will hurt."

He briefed them on the store's plans and said the bankruptcy would help the store win more credit, so the shelves could be stocked for the Christmas season. The bankruptcy would be good for the store, he said, and likened Frederick & Nelson's situation to that of the Bon Marche, which has operated in Chapter 11 bankruptcy for two years.

He told the workers not to worry if a bank teller was reluctant to cash their paychecks. The banks will be fully apprised of the company's situation.

The employees listened quietly, as if the announcement was expected.One man asked how they should respond to customers' questions.

"If a customer asks you, `Are you going out of business,' tell her, `No ma'am, we are not,' " replied the manager. "We are going to be in business for another 100 years."

-- Times business reporter Polly Lane contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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