By Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Last Saturday, Elinor Friedman was in Nordstrom's suburban Cleveland store, about to buy a pair of black silk Palazzo pajama pants, when she realized they were too long.
"And then the sales lady said that maybe the same size in petites would fit me better," Ms. Friedman recalled. "So I asked her for directions to the petites department, and she said, 'Oh, don't worry, I'll go upstairs and get them.' And off she went, even though it was very busy that day. I was shocked."
It was this kind of personalized service -- delivered in a relaxed, cheerful manner -- that shoppers at the store cited yesterday as the key to Nordstrom's special allure, something that brings them back again and again. Indeed, Ms. Friedman had returned five days after her memorable encounter with the saleswoman -- "Her name was Rebecca, put that in your article," she instructed a reporter -- to look for something to wear to a bar mitzvah.
"They're phenomenal," added Denise Manes, a resident of Beachwood, the moneyed Cleveland suburb where Nordstrom has been located since 1997. "If you have any problems with anything you've purchased, they make it right.
"I'd choose them over Dillard's or Saks Fifth Avenue any day," she said, referring to the store's nearby competitors.
Will Pittsburghers be equally enchanted? The Seattle-based retailer, which announced plans yesterday to open a store at Ross Park Mall in Ross, can only hope there will be the same market here as there is in Cleveland for $595 Missoni striped jersey dresses and $885 Armani jackets in nubbly silver and pale blue silk.
Or maybe not. Nordstrom spokeswoman Deniz Anders said that a regional buyer will select merchandise specifically tailored to shoppers in the Pittsburgh market, which could mean that some of the higher-end goods on display in Cleveland yesterday may not make the cut.
Will there be takers in Pittsburgh for a $395 tailored blue and white linen jacket by Facconable -- Nordstrom's house brand? Perhaps, but if that price is a little steep, the same line offers a lime-colored knit jersey pullover in heavy cotton for $70. A silky raincoat in a brilliant shade of raspberry by MP was $168.
And on the sale racks, there were some reasonably priced items, if not exactly bargains, including a luxurious striped silk blouse by Jones New York that had been reduced from $89 to $59 and a crisp jacket in "truffle" by the same label reduced from $219 to $147.50.
Despite its location in Beachwood, one of the nation's wealthiest communities, Cleveland's store isn't even the most high-end in the chaing, said Karen Hillenbrand of Moreland Hills, a nearby suburb, who was visiting with her young daughters -- "for shoes and coffee," she said.
"At some Nordstrom's you can find Manolo Blahnik heels, although if they don't carry them, the sales people will always order them for you," Ms. Hillenbrand said.
Which brings us to the subject of Nordstrom's fabled shoe collection. Not only were there no Blahniks (gasp!) at the Cleveland store, the overall selection, frankly, disappointed.
There were lots of gaudy designer sneakers -- Tsubo "Phact" denim laceups for $80 -- and sporty sandals, such as the Mephisto "Air Relax" sandals with thin red patent leather straps and diamond buckles for $115. Of course, there were also some ladylike slingbacks by celebrity shoe designer Stuart Weitzman in buttercup yellow for $250. But much of the inventory appeared no different than what could be found at Little's, Gordon's or Marshall's in Pittsburgh.
Still, Pittsburgh shoppers will be able to sort out their shoe issues during lunch at an in-store cafe similar but not identical to the one in Cleveland, which serves gourmet sandwiches and large slices of chocolate cake at reasonable prices. Or, if your baby needs nursing, the capacious, immaculate ladies rooms -- decorated in tasteful taupe -- include a lounge for diaper changing and quiet time.
That's where Allison Newman found herself yesterday, along with her newborn and her mother, Barbara Somogyi. A longtime customer, Ms. Newman found herself finally being able to fit into her trendy True Religion jeans -- purchased at the store -- after enduring months of maternity clothes which, she noted, were Nordstrom's weak spot.
"There's not much selection. But then again, there's nothing in Cleveland for pregnant women," muttered Ms. Newman, who had recently moved back to the suburb of Solon, Ohio, from Manhattan. "Don't get me wrong, though," she added, as she removed a bottle from her daughter Parker's mouth. "Overall, Nordstrom's rocks."