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Tuesday, May 26, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Saying `Good Night' To An Old Friend -- F&N End: `Nothing's The Same Anymore'

The last day for Frederick & Nelson had the look and feel of a garage sale. For some who remembered better days at downtown Seattle's dowager department store, it was almost too much to bear.

"When you walked in here, it was like home. This is a real shame," said Richard Miller, 46, one of about 100 bargain hunters and nostalgia seekers who clustered outside the bankrupt store's Pine Street entrance yesterday before it opened for the last time.

"Also, they called you `Mister.' "

When the doors opened at 10, what the shoppers found inside was a jarring juxtaposition: Racks of fur coats, mostly empty display counters, pyramids of Frangos, boxes of paperbacks on tables in the aisles and rough wood pallets, stacked with merchandise, on the main floor's marble surface.

Almost everything was offered at deep discounts. Miller found a $38 pair of shorts for $12.

Ruth Liebelt contemplated her impending early retirement from behind what once had been a perfume counter, now stacked with crockery. Frederick's hired her to help out with the Christmas rush 33 years ago. She never left.

"What I don't like is all this debris, the feeling of lost control," the German emigrant said, struggling to contain her emotions. "It's just like losing World War II again."

On the second floor, what remained of the women's clothing department was huddled around the escalators, surrounded by acres of empty carpet. Bernice Nickols, 81, and her sister, Ruby Turner, 78, both from Seattle, had come not so much to shop as to mourn.

Nickols first shopped at Frederick & Nelson as a teenager. "It was a beautiful store, wonderful service" she said. "We used to come in hats. We wore gloves. Now they come in curlers."

She recalled the time she had returned a pair of gloves for a refund only to learn later the gloves came from another store. She went back to Frederick's, announced she owed them money - but the manager wouldn't take it. "You're too honest," he told her.

"Nothing's the same any more," Nickols said.

"It's like a friend going away," said her sister.

BARGAIN-HUNTERS PROWL

The third and fifth floors were dark, the fourth floor a surrealistic assemblage of mannequin torsos, fake flowers and imitation Christmas trees, one with lights blinking brightly.

On the sixth floor, bargainhunters sifted through office equipment - not new items but the half-full glue dispensers, battered metal desks, waste baskets and used notebooks that once remained under the store's counters and behind its closed office doors.

Frederick's had hired Jon Rawitzer to oversee this operation. He works for an office-furniture company. His wife, Tessa, was F&N's director of human resources.

"Sure, it was an opportunity for me," Rawitzer said, "but the end result is, my wife doesn't have a job."

On the seventh floor, Jeannette Carpenter of Tacoma wandered through the sparse collection of beds, dressers and china cabinets. She had come in search of "something from Frederick's" for her grandmother's 90th birthday.

Carpenter, 34, didn't grow up in Seattle but heard from her mother and grandmother, both Seattle natives, about lunching at the Frederick & Nelson Tea Room, about the tradition of getting your picture taken on Santa's lap in Frederick's window at Christmas. When she moved here in 1985 and first visited the store, however, "it was not what my mother had described."

"It's sad - typical, but sad," said Carpenter, who has worked in retail sales. "They didn't pay attention to the basics."

One flight up, on the top floor, the piles of Oriental carpets were too tempting for children to resist. They bounded from stack to stack. The salespersons didn't seem to mind.

And, in the corner, the restaurant that once had been the Tea Room was dark.

"Restaurant equipment sold by appointment only," read a sign on the door.

THE CLOCK TICKS

As the clock ticked toward the 6 o'clock closing, the biggest crowds were lined up for Frango mints, furs and souvenirs.

One couple bought two mink coats. One, originally listed for $22,950, cost $3,300, they said. The second, believed to retail at about $9,000, went for $1,300. With those valuable furs at home, the buyers wanted to be identified only as Alex and Nancy.

Edie Mitchell and her friend, Angie Stovall, came looking for leather coats. Finding none, they settled for a box of Frangos each.

One family walked out with boxes full of restaurant souvenirs - a huge mixing bowl, a colander, tea pot and cups and a couple of the shiny plates on which Frango ice cream was served.

Moments before 6, Tom Means, the store manager, went door to door posting black-bordered signs.

"Frederick & Nelson is closed," the signs read. "Thank you for your patronage and allowing us to serve you for the past 102 years."

Means said store employees planned to mark the closing with a brief private meeting after the last customer left. They were to toast the Seattle institution with champagne.

People were reluctant to leave. And they loitered on Pine Street, watching others leave.

William Stine, in his green doorman's uniform, shook hands with patrons as they left for the last time.

"Good night," he said. "Goodbye."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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