The Nordstrom family this week is set christen its newest store—albeit one that was a half-century in the making—at the bottom of a Manhattan skyscraper.
The 320,000-square-foot, seven-story shopping space will be the largest store to open in New York in more than 50 years and represents the family’s biggest bet ever. While Erik Nordstrom, co-president of the Seattle-based retailer, helped guide the store across the finish line, it was his 86-year-old father Bruce’s vision that set it into motion.
Bruce Nordstrom, former president of the company, in a video on Monday spoke of the allure of doing business in fashionable and heavily trafficked New York City—a dream that dates back to shortly after the retailer expanded beyond shoes in the 1960s. Other family members, including Pete, who is co-president with Erik, and Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores, appeared in the video to describe the significance of the flagship on the island.
“It’s been a long time,” Erik Nordstrom said from the first floor of the store near Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, where doors will open to the public Oct. 24. “Location, location, location—that's part of our journey in finding a spot here.”
The family-run operation spent the last 118 years expanding across the rest of the country, opening more than 100 of its full-size shops in cities from San Diego to Jacksonville, Florida, but shied away from America’s department store capital until now. The family started scouting locations in the mid-1990s before deciding to put its flagship at the bottom of Central Park Tower, where Erik Nordstrom said benefits included proximity to Manhattan’s West Side and a space the retailer could build out to its own needs.
Nordstrom won’t have to look far for well-heeled shoppers.
The tower, a new project from Extell Development Co. and Shanghai Municipal Investment Group, topped out at 1,550 feet (472 meters) last month, making it the world’s tallest residential building. It’s Extell’s ultra-luxury follow-up to One57, the skyscraper that touched off the city’s high-end construction boom—and set the stage for the market’s current slowdown. Extell began work on One57 less than a year after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.—and in the absence of competition, sold US$1 billion of condos in six months. The result was a race to the sky of ultra-luxury towers across Manhattan and the creation of a “Billionaires’ Row” on 57th Street, where the priciest of those units are concentrated.
Today, wealthy condo investors have a lot of inventory to choose from in Manhattan—and they’re not in a hurry to close a deal. That’s raised questions about the appetite for yet another luxury project. In the third quarter, only 20 per cent of closed sales in new developments were for units priced US$5 million and higher—the second-lowest share since the beginning of 2017, brokerage Core said in a report this month. Listings seeking buyers on Billionaires’ Row are priced considerably higher—a median of US$19.03 million.
Nordstrom joins New York’s shopping scene at a time of widespread upheaval. This year, Lord & Taylor and Henri Bendel each shuttered flagship stores that had been open for more than a century. Saks Fifth Avenue closed a failed downtown outpost and Barneys New York filed for bankruptcy earlier this summer. On a net basis, Manhattan has shed about 322,000 square feet (30,000 square meters) of department stores in 2019. Nordstrom executives have admitted that the borough doesn’t need another department store.
In its women’s store, Nordstrom is catering to New York shoppers who are used to many options. Shoes and services will be a major focus for winning customers. There will be more than 100,000 pairs of women’s shoes across multiple sales floors. A wide variety of in-store shoe repairs will be offered, including sneaker cleaning, heel replacements and dyeing. Shoppers can also decorate Converses at a custom artwork station. About a third of the shoe assortments will be exclusive to the store.
Instagrammable moments are integrated into the store. The Nike section is covered in red velvet and has red surveillance cameras taking videos of the shoes customers trek in with, displaying them on video screens for all to see. It could serve as an incentive for people to buy new shoes, one store employee said.
Beauty services were ramped up for this store, with more than 210 services available such as hair blowouts, waxing and face massages. The retailer often touts that it’s the largest employer of tailors in the U.S., and customers at this newest location can come in with pants and dress alterations. Denim items can be customized as well, and customers can bring in jeans and jackets, even those they didn't buy in the store. Digital screens advertise other services such as same-day delivery, and mobile charging stations are available throughout the store.
Another way the store is keeping shoppers to stay longer is by allowing booze to flow freely—only on the floors with liquor licenses, of course. Customers are able to order martinis and other alcoholic beverages to be delivered to them on five of the seven levels as they try on shoes or clothes. Food and beverage make up one in four transactions, and that number is on the rise, according to Vincent Rossetti, vice president of restaurant operations.
Nordstrom also has aspirations elsewhere in the city. It has a Nordstrom Rack outlet store downtown and the retailer last month opened two Nordstrom Local locations, a much smaller format that provides services such as stylist consultations, handbag repairs and gift wrapping. Its men’s store, the first of its kind, opened last year across the street from the flagship.
Every retailer will say, of course, that location is the key to success. With a highly visible store off Broadway, the Nordstrom family is making sure its splashy entry into New York will get noticed. And the association with a high-end luxury tower adds to the sense of sophistication and style that the retailer wants customers to identify with the brand.
“This building certainly is a huge part of that,” Erik Nordstrom said.