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Friday, August 21, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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High-Fives Greet New Nordstrom -- 5,000 At The Door As Flagship Store Opens Today

Seattle Times Business Reporters

With upraised fists, shoppers poured into the new Nordstrom store in downtown Seattle this morning as employees greeted the first customers with whoops and whistles and slapped their hands in high-five salutes.

"We're here, finally," said store manager Jeff Greer as he surveyed a huge crowd gathered outside before the 9:30 a.m. opening.

Shoppers packed the main floor as soon as the doors opened, heading for the shoe and cosmetics departments and forming long lines to get onto escalators. By 10:45 a.m., a long line was waiting to get into the Nordstrom Grill on the fourth floor.

"I'm from Wyoming and there aren't this many people in the whole state," said Loydaine Strock, who lives on a ranch in Douglas, Wyo.

A big draw was the enormous cosmetics section, with its thousands of tubes of lipstick and shelves of makeup flanking counters equipped with wash basins and mirrors for do-it-yourself testing.

"I just walked in 20 minutes ago. I expected it to be crowded, but I didn't expect all of Seattle to be here," said Sheila Moss, a longtime Nordstrom customer from Seattle.

A few minutes before the opening, police estimated a crowd of 5,000 waiting outside. Pine Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues and part of Sixth Avenue were temporarily closed to traffic to clear room for people spilling onto the streets. The streets were reopened later in the day, but people jammed sidewalks around the store into the afternoon. The newly opened Pacific Place parking garage, connected to Nordstrom by a skybridge, was full.

First customer waited hours

First in line to get into the store was Doug Clark, 14, who took a bus from Bellevue that dropped him off at 5:30 a.m.

"I thought it was going to be packed," said Clark, enduring a crush of media interviews during the hours before the opening.

Right behind Clark was Ethel Rinaldo, 67, of Ballard, who arrived at 6:30 a.m. and plopped down in a lawn chair.

"I enjoy shopping, and I like adventure," Rinaldo said.

Rita James, a 65-year-old Seattle native, said she showed up to witness a milestone.

"I've seen a lot of stores come and go," James said. "It's hard for a person my age to get used to change, but this is history in the making."

The crowds were frustrating to some shoppers.

"You can't even shop in there," said Sharlene Toda of Steilacoom. "It's worse than the anniversary sale. The elevators are full, the escalators are full. It's just not a day to shop, or even to look."

Adding to the hyped atmosphere were TV monitors blaring nonstop Nordstrom promotional videos, including welcoming messages from Seahawk quarterback Warren Moon, jazz musician Kenny G, ESPN announcer Chris Berman and former "Cheers" co-star John Ratzenberger.

Nordstrom's opening of its $100 million flagship store in the former Frederick & Nelson department-store building is seen as the centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment in the works for two and a half years. Other retail and office projects are to open later this year and next, including Pacific Place across Sixth Avenue from the Nordstrom store.

"I tell you, we couldn't be more pleased and excited," said Blake Nordstrom, one of six Nordstrom co-presidents. The two-year project to transform the Frederick's building from an empty shell into one of the chain's glitziest stores turned out to be "clearly beyond our expectations," he said.

Mayor attends preview

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell was among those who toured the store last night before it opened to the public today.

"People will feel right at home," he said this morning as he stopped for coffee at Nordstrom's espresso bar. "It will feel like an old shoe."

The new Nordstrom, in fact is quite different from the old store at Fifth Avenue and Pike Street. The store closed Wednesday and now awaits redevelopment into retail and office space.

For starters, it's 80,000 square feet, 55 percent larger than the former store, and is more like the newer stores Nordstrom has been building in other cities. Sweep through the double glass doors on Pine Street and you step onto the polished Italian marble aisles of the main floor. Farther back are rows of women's shoes and display cases loaded with designer handbags, hosiery, scarves and jewelry.

If you're not excited about shoes or fragrances, suits, sweaters, lingerie and designer fashions, how about a milk-whey bath in the fifth-floor Spa Nordstrom followed by a roast-turkey panini sandwich, crisp pommes frites and a glass of wine in Cafe Nordstrom?

The fourth-floor cafe is designed to look like an Old World European marketplace.

If the new Seattle Nordstrom is anything like its sibling in downtown San Francisco, it will become a destination for out-of-town visitors as well as legions of Seattle shoppers. The company expects it to generate more than $100 million in sales a year.

"It's really the Nordstrom store this town has deserved for a long time," said Jammie Baugh, executive vice president and general manager of Nordstrom's Northwest retail stores.

On the heels of such recent developments as NikeTown, GameWorks and Planet Hollywood, the impact of the new store on downtown Seattle is palpable.

"We're already seeing much more pedestrian traffic, especially in the evenings and on the weekends. We fully expect with Nordstrom and the adjacent Pacific Place that that traffic will become even stronger," said Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association. The $175 million Pacific Place retail-entertainment complex at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street opens Oct. 29.

Managers of other downtown stores said they were already benefiting from the crowds Nordstrom drew downtown today.

A Banana Republic manager said her store was catering to three times the usual amount of shoppers this morning.

"It already feels like New York to me," said Susie Vesser, manager of Georgiou Fine Women's Apparel in Westlake Center.

Peaceful oasis at The Bon

Compared to Nordstrom, The Bon Marche's downtown store was a peaceful oasis. Two shoppers searching for a new couch had The Bon's fifth floor virtually to themselves.

Irene Wojnar of Bellevue said she and two friends tired quickly of the Nordstrom crowd and decided to explore The Bon instead.

"We'll go back when it's less crowded," Wojnar said. "We want to see something besides people."

The Bon took out full-page newspaper ads this week congratulating Nordstrom on its move, calling the specialty fashion retailer "our old friend and neighbor." But their competition is as tough as ever: The Bon is planning a multimillion-dollar makeover of its own next year.

The changes downtown have not been without controversy. About 50 citizen activists rallied today at Westlake Park to protest the use of city and federal funds for downtown redevelopment.

The $400 million deal that led to Nordstrom's move drew criticism for its use of money from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to clean up a so-called blighted area. City officials also came under scrutiny for agreeing to pay $23 million more for the Pacific Place parking garage than the estimated $50 million it cost to build.

Two people from a group called Taxpayers Against Nordstrom Garage meandered through the crowd this morning, carrying signs protesting the city's financing of the garage.

"We think rich Nordstrom has enough money to pay for their own garage," said Yoram Bauman, one of the protesters.

Nordstrom will be open until 10 p.m. today, from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

The company will host a celebration tomorrow in Westlake Park, with Pat Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir at 11 a.m.; the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling, music and comedy group at 12:15 p.m.; singer Ernestine Anderson and the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble at 3 p.m.

Lee Moriwaki's phone message number is 206-464-2320. His e-mail address is: lmoriwaki@seattletimes.com

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

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NORDSTROM'S HISTORY IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE

1901: John W. Nordstrom and Carl F. Wallin open a shoe store, Wallin & Nordstrom, at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street in downtown Seattle.

1929: Wallin retires and sells his share in the business to Nordstrom's sons.

1937: The Nordstrom shoe store moves to Fifth Avenue and Pike Street.

1963: Nordstrom acquires the Best apparel store at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street.

1973: Nordstrom-Best acquires the building in between their two stores and consolidates into the complex Nordstrom occupied until Wednesday night.

1992: The Frederick & Nelson department store on Pine Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues closes.

1995: Nordstrom signs letter of intent with Pine Street Associates to renovate and occupy the former Frederick & Nelson building.

1996: Construction begins.

Aug. 21, 1998: The new $100 million Nordstrom flagship store opens.

Source: Nordstrom, Seattle Times

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

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