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Thursday, August 20, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Goodbye, Nordy's -- All-Night Move To New Store Hits Sentimental Spot In Seattle Hearts

Seattle Times Business Reporter

Crowds of people, gawking, cheering and taking pictures, gathered behind yellow police tape last night as 1,000 Nordstrom employees crossed and recrossed downtown streets in a seemingly endless moving-night parade.

Television news vans lined up in front of Nordstrom's downtown Seattle store at Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, and TV camera lights quickly turned the intersection into a studio.

Pulling a dizzying all-nighter, employees managed to move almost everything to luxurious new digs in the renovated Frederick & Nelson building across the street.

Presidents and rock stars draw this sort of attention. But department-store workers pushing racks of men's suits or cartloads of shoeboxes?

From door to door it was only a few hundred feet, but this move was about more than just distance. The 97-year-old Seattle retailer closed its 35-year-old downtown Seattle location yesterday.

Today marks the first time in Nordstrom history that the doors of its Seattle flagship will remain locked on a working weekday. Employees will stay busy today putting the finishing touches on the new store, which opens tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

"I know it sounds kind of corny, but I just came down to say goodbye to the store," said Jill Czaplicki of Redmond as she stood on the sidewalk watching the movers last night. "My family's been coming here for 40 years."

The long-planned nighttime move quickly turned into an event that drew onlookers, many with a sense of nostalgia for the old store. Pine Street, between Fourth and Seventh avenues, and Fifth Avenue from Westlake to Pike Street were closed most of the night and early this morning.

Among those who came to watch was Cheryl Eklund,a lifelong Seattle resident who came downtown with her mother, Helen, to take pictures and just, well, be there.

"It's kind of sad seeing the old store close," Eklund said. "I walked through it yesterday. I was being a curious cat in there, just walking through areas I had never been through."

Even store manager Jeff Greer had mixed emotions.

"My first sales job was in this store in men's shoes in 1984," he said. "So yeah, there really are a lot of fond memories with the store."

But with the monumental task of moving everything from crates of cosmetics to 125,000 pairs of shoes ahead of him, Greer had little time to reminisce.

He and Molly Kuffner, Nordstrom's Northwest group logistics coordinator, were too busy riding herd on an operation that began at 7 p.m.

Working overtime shifts, Nordstrom employees pushed and pulled cart after cart of merchandise into the new location. Wearing colorful T-shirts that read "The moving is the hardest part," they resembled a genial army, well-prepared for their mission.

For such an ambitious task, it all went smoothly. Which isn't to say there wasn't any confusion:

"They told us to go this way, but how do I get to men's shoes through this door?" one person asked.

"This isn't a race, folks. Take your time and place things in boxes. Don't dump stuff," another warned.

"Garment racks hold up! Shoes go ahead."

And at times, the waiting was the hardest part as workers in the new store tried to keep up with the flow of carts and garment racks backed up like rush hour on the 520 bridge. No road rage here, though, just good humor and plenty of enthusiasm.

"If they give us a couple of T-shirts, we'll jump in and help," said Beverly Levin as she watched from the sidewalk. The Los Angeles resident was in Seattle attending a conference.

When the contents of one cart clattered onto the street, onlookers issued a collective groan. That was followed by cheers as a half-dozen employees rushed over to help clean up the mess.

Last-day excitement had been building with employees and customers throughout the day. When Greer ceremonially locked the doors at 7 p.m., hundreds of employees, some crying, cheered and clapped in unison.

"I'm feeling kind of sentimental right now," said employee Paula Brantner. "This has been my home for 18 years. I've been here longer than I've been at my own home."

Being last isn't usually a way of getting attention, but as the last customer to make a purchase in the old location, Tzeghe Makonnnen of Newcastle got plenty.

"It's very exciting. I knew they were closing but I wasn't sure this was what I was getting into," she said before walking out the door at 7:53 p.m., a newly purchased dress in one hand and the hand of her 4-year-old daughter Tamara in the other.

As she left the store, dozens of Nordstrom workers stopped packing to applaud her.

Within minutes of the store's closing, the familiar Nordstrom signs on the building's exterior were already being taken down. Kevin Falls and Jim Shaw of Dwinell's Visual Systems were two stories above the ground in a cherry picker removing the letters from the wall.

Falls has fond memories of the store but not necessarily of the sign.

"When I was an apprentice nine years ago, I had to come down and clean them all the time, so I'm pretty happy to see them come down," he said laughing.

Nordstrom will be open tomorrow and Saturday at its new location until 10 p.m. Beginning Sunday, regular store hours will resume: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Sunday and 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Saturday, Nordstrom's celebrates the opening of its new flagship store with a free daylong party in Westlake Park featuring music, acrobatics and jugglers.

Joe Heim's phone message number is 206-464-3328. His e-mail address is: jheim@seattletimes.com

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

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