Sunday, March 26, 2006

Cleveland shoppers unabashed Nordstrom supporters

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."


  1. "who was that yelling out his window at you?" "john nordstrom..."Monday, March 27, 2006 2:43:00 AM

    I'm telling you now and I've told you before. I grew up on this store. Interestingly, I never bought much from them. I'd go in and straighten out the racks, in my sweats, to the point where people thought I worked there, and mostly browse.

    I move to D.C., finally come into the possession of some money, and... Woody's? L & T? There's nowhere to shop! So I opted to foreshadow the grunge trend, favoring sweats and whatever over bad service and worse clothes.

    I wonder what Jason's take on this pittsburgh nordstrom phenomenon (can you say 'oxymoron?') must be........

  2. I don't know that he'll even cover the story. For all the retail he covers in Tube City, I can't see him getting excited over Nordstrom coming to town. Though if they ever got him through the door, I know that he'd be a fan. That's all it took for me.

    Of course, when it comes to nice stores, I'm likely more easily convinced than he :-)

  3. Wonderful! A feature article about my favorite department store located at my favorite mall! I LOVE shopping at Beachwood Place. My favorite part of Nordstrom is their BP section where I can get cool clothes that actually fit me (yes, I'm 26 and still fit into Junior sizes). Some comments:

    -While the ladies bathroom is both luxe and posh, it is FILTHY. I would never ever sit on one of their seats, the toilets are often backed up, and it smells bad. Soooo not worth the stench for the couch and wall-to-wall mirrors.

    -A certain millionaire I know was born and raised in Beachwood. I think they lumped in Pepper Pike while referring it to it as one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country however. I've had many nice dinners in Beachwood =)

    -Mike dated a shoe salesman at Nordstrom...women's shoe department. I was promised a sweet discount on high-end shoes and then he got fired.

    -I'm not sure about other Nordstrom's, but the purse selection blows at the Beachwood one. No Prada, no Louis Vuitton, weak Coach selection....

    -Clevelanders are forced to love Nordstrom by default...our only other options are Saks, Dillards, Kaufmann's, and JC Penney. Aside from Saks, the rest of them suck. So of course we are unabashed supporters...we have NO OTHER CHOICE. While I do love Nordstrom, I would certainly appreciate the presence of a Macy's, Bloomingdales, or Marshall Field's. Maybe a little healthy competition would up the ante with merchandising and pricing at Nordstrom....

  4. Nordstrom tends to be a crap shoot around here, too. The Durham, NC store is easily the best thing in The Streets at Southpoint, but they aim at budget-concious shoppers too much. If I wanted Belk, I'd go to Belk. :-)

    The other ones I go to in Richmond, Charlotte and Washington tend to do a better job on the things I like, though the first two tend to be kind of skimpy on the really good shit.

    Saks tends to be better depending on the neighborhood. The one at Chevy Chase, MD rocks while the Richomnd and Raleigh stores tend to be a little boring (Richmond is picking up steam though)

    The one you guys need though is Neiman Marcus. I've never been to a bad Neiman Marcus.

    I've also never seen a stinky Nordstrom bathroom. Wait, I take that back. When the Pentagon City Nordstrom was being remodeled last year, they were down to just one restroom. For a 240,000 squsre foot store. The decorations were Park Avenue, but the smell was third-world at best. Not to mention the wait. That's some seriously fucked-up planning, if you ask me.

    Back to more pleasnt matters. Most times I plan my shopping in advance and order stuff from the internet or other stores. Or I'll wait and do it in Charlotte, Washington or New York. I'm a shopping-obsessed wanna-be Manhattanite trapped in Mayberry :-)