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Saturday, July 18, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`William The Doorman' To Don Nordstrom Duds -- The Big Smile Of The Last Frederick & Nelson Doorman Will Soon Brighten Pine Street Once Again

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

It took only six years as the Frederick & Nelson doorman for William Stine to become a Seattle institution.

His smiling brown eyes and thin, gray mustache were so beloved that the waning department store had him peeking from magazine ads, tipping his hat on television and finally immortalized as a popular metal "William The Doorman" collectible doorstop. He was, for all intents and purposes, the face of Frederick & Nelson.

Stine remembers meeting Bob Hope, holding the door open for "Roots" author Alex Haley, carrying bags full of new sheets, blankets and pillows for Sonics legend "Downtown" Fred Brown, and the regular arrival of an 80-something lady with a walker who liked to sneak a snort of whiskey on her way to the ladies' clothing department.

And Stine remembers May 25, 1992 - the day he kneeled down in his green-and-yellow gabardine uniform, stuck a key in the glass door on Pine Street and locked Frederick & Nelson for the last time.

"I wanted to escape, get away," Stine says of that moment. "I just felt like, the door is shut. I decided to just find a quiet place and play golf."

Six years later, Stine is back. He will tie the old with the new in this history-loving city that reeled with Frederick's demise almost as if the Space Needle had toppled.

On Aug. 21, the 75-year-old will return to his post as Nordstrom opens its new flagship store in the old Frederick & Nelson building. His uniform will be different, but the trademark grin is unchanged.

"It's an opportunity for ex-Frederick & Nelson customers to kind of put a smile back on their faces," Stine said. "Many of them were left in shock, including me. This is a chance to heal the wounds."

There's something about a doorman that exudes a sense of grandeur - of moving through a world where people can afford to pay a guy to stand around in a funny suit, open doors, hail cabs and load shopping bags into car trunks. Ten floors up, the store president sits in an office with a view. But to Joe and Jane Shopper, the doorman runs the show.

"The doorman is really an important part of the Frederick & Nelson nostalgia thing," said Jan Perry, who heads an alumni club of sorts for former F&N employees who stay in touch. "And for Nordstrom to continue that, for that building, is not only a good thing to do, but it's a part of the tide of the past."

Virtual strangers would call Stine by his first name, mail him postcards or ask him to autograph the 20-pound cast-metal doorstops in his grinning likeness. And they would bring their children to the store just to meet him.

"They would say, `I remember you from 30 years ago, when I came shopping here with my mother,' " the doorman chuckled. "I would say, `I haven't been here that long,' but they said, `No, I remember you.' I was a familiar face, like Ivar Haglund."

Indeed, Stine was well into his 60's, a retired printer, when he wandered into Frederick's employment office in the mid-'80s, hoping to get a job as the famous F&N Santa Claus. He didn't make it to the application counter.

"A little gal in Special Events came through the door, looked at me and said, `You go into that room and put on that uniform; you are the new doorman,' " Stine recalled. "I started the day after Thanksgiving - the busiest shopping day of the year."

For the next six years, Stine pulled open those doors, tipped his cap and flagged down taxis. At Christmas he passed out Frangos from his deep pockets. When the employees' preschoolers came downstairs from the in-house daycare to take a walk, they all cried, "Hello, William!" in unison and slapped his hand as they passed.

"I felt my job was as an ambassador of good will," Stine said.

After Frederick's closed, Stine and his wife of 51 years, Donna, moved to Mukilteo to relax. But the more he read about Nordstrom's new store, the more he decided they needed him.

Once again, he found himself in the employment office, this time showing off a heavy photo album full of F&N memories. Old news clippings. The old magazine ads. Photos of the funny little doorstops. And letter after letter of commendation from his old bosses and cherished notes from pleased customers.

The Nordstrom people jumped at the idea. There's never been a Nordstrom doorman. Even the uniform needs to be designed.

At Stine's age, he'll only be manning the doors part time and on special occasions - maybe about two half-days a week. Still, he says, there will be plenty of time to return a little Frederick & Nelson flair to Pine Street.

Ian Ith's e-mail address is: iith@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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