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Sunday, August 16, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nordstrom Stretches Out -- With Six Floors There's Room To Move And Market

WHEN THE DOORS of Nordstrom's new $100 million, 380,000-square-foot flagship store fling open at 9:30 a.m. Friday, it won't be by happenstance that the first departments to greet shoppers will be cosmetics, women's shoes and accessories. Or that the Gallery, Savvy and Individualist fashion sections will be clustered together on the second floor. Or that Brass Rail clothing for young men will be on the Metro level below Pine Street.

Every square foot of selling space has been laid out to generate the highest circulation and sales for Nordstrom's glossy emporium in the former Frederick & Nelson building on Pine Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.

Company executives expect the store to do more than $100 million a year in sales, says Nordstrom Chairman John Whitacre.

The rush among shoppers to see the new store, under construction for two years and four months, should start business off with a bang. The flagship will be the largest among Nordstrom's 96 stores around the country.

On the outside, it will be the same elegant, terra-cotta facade that clothed Frederick & Nelson before it folded in 1992. Not only has Nordstrom cleaned and polished the outside of the building, it will restore the old F & N doorman on Pine Street and return Santa Claus to his traditional perch in the Sixth and Pine display window at Christmas.

Inside, the store will be pure Nordstrom. Part of the $100-million construction cost went to moving escalators from the rear of the building to its center, like all other Nordstrom stores. And, yes, there will be a pianist by the escalator.

The old downtown Nordstrom was a hodgepodge of a store crammed into three buildings. The new flagship is bright and spacious with lots of customer amenities.

After years of shopping torture for men - shoes and clothing spread over four floors in the old downtown store - they'll have their own destination space on a single floor below Pine.

There'll be a 95-seat Grill restaurant on that floor, along with the Brass Rail department for young men. In some Nordstrom stores, Brass Rail was placed next to the Brass Plum section for young women, but the company found young men prefer to shop where the other men's merchandise is, Whitacre said.

The Metro level reflects a change in thinking. The first floor, with its entrances from the street, represents retailing wisdom at its most traditional. This is the floor for what some retailers call impulse purchases - cosmetics, accessories and the like. Merchandise on the first floor can account for upward of 40 percent of a store's sales.

The new main floor promises to be a glittering landscape of women's shoes, handbags, scarves, hosiery and jewelry, plus 70 lines of cosmetics and 180 lines of fragrances that can be tested at long makeup counters with sinks.

Nordstrom has put designer fashions on the second floor, close to the high-traffic main floor. It also has situated departments such as Individualist and Gallery close together, because it has found customers who shop in one tend to cross-shop in the other.

This is a world of risk, partly because fashion is so dependent on changing customer tastes, partly because these departments are fighting gravity: The more floors you go up in a store, the more apt you are to lose customers. Or as Whitacre puts it, "The air gets real thin real fast."

And what of those rarefied upper floors, the Himalayas of retail heights?

Not only will escalators whisk shoppers up, a fourth-floor skybridge from the Pacific Place retail-entertainment complex and garage will provide access and downward circulation.

The third floor will feature lingerie and a variety of sub-departments, including women's fashions in larger sizes. More than 50 percent of the female population wears over size 14, points out Jennifer Black, retail analyst with the Black & Co. stock-research company in Portland.

The fourth floor will be a kids' haven, with children's shoes, clothing and accessories. The decor includes floor tiles designed by Seattle-area youngsters and two aquariums - one saltwater, one freshwater - wrapped around pillars.

Brass Plum, the department for young women, will be on the fourth floor, as well as the department for petite women and a Cafe Nordstrom, the store's second restaurant.

On the fifth floor, drawing people yet higher in the building: a Spa Nordstrom for manicures, facials and massages.

"The whole theme of retailing today is it has to be entertaining," said Black, the Portland analyst. Shoppers can get a facial, then do some shopping, or the other way around. "It makes it more a destination."

Lee Moriwaki is a Seattle Times reporter covering retailing. Barry Wong is a Times staff photographer. Ken Oelerich is a former Times news artist.

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

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