Nordstrom opens to the delight of shopping set

September 12, 1992|By Michael Dresser and Meredith Schlow | Michael Dresser and Meredith Schlow,Staff Writers

The employees gathered by the entrances 10 minutes before the opening. Dozens of beautifully dressed people practiced their best smiles, jazzed at the thought that just on the other side of the metal barrier was The Public -- all lined up and dying to shop.

At 9:58 a.m. yesterday, the employees began clapping. On the other side of the barrier, the public clapped back.

The noise swelled until, at precisely 10 a.m., the gate lifted and Baltimore streamed into Nordstrom amid the type of applause usually reserved for sports heroes.

For Nordstrom, the Seattle-based department store chain with a fanatical devotion to customer service, the opening of the glitzy new Towson Town Center store was the culmination of three years of planning, building, design and research.

For the newly hired employees, it was show time. After weeks of rehearsal -- seminars, training sessions and envelopment in the warm fuzziness of Nordstrom culture -- they finally came face to face with their audience: the shoppers of Baltimore.

And from all appearances, it was love even before first sight. By the time the gates went up, hundreds of shoppers were waiting outside the store's entrances, credit cards at the ready.

Katherine S. Loewe, who had just finished her eight-hour shift as an emergency-room nurse at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, was at the front of the line at the second-floor mall entrance at 9:30 a.m.

"Shop till you drop -- I set my priorities a long time ago," said Ms. Loewe, still dressed in her white nursing uniform. "And it's opening day -- this is something brand new."

Also in line was Mia Minion, lured to the opening by the hope of finding a special brand and color of lipstick that she couldn't find at another store.

"I know they have it," she said. "And if I find it, I'll probably never go to Owings Mills or any place else!"

Beverly Katz, an office manager for a Columbia doctor, said she was thinking about putting the store's reputation for customer service to the test.

"My son told me that if you wear two different-size shoes on each foot, that they will fit you with a size 8 and a size 9, or whatever you need," she said. "He said I was just crazy enough to go in and make them do it."

On the other side of the gate, the anticipation was running just as high.

Tonya Young, the store's manager, assured a visitor that this had been a very smooth opening -- nothing hectic except for a lot of all-nighters and the acid spill Wednesday that forced an emergency recarpeting in the dining room.

But the excitement was building, and she couldn't stay still, snapping her fingers and doing a little shimmy as she talked. "You can feel the energy," she said.

Down in the Nordstrom Rack, the company's first-floor discount outlet, a tall, balding man wearing dress slacks and a designer tie was racing down the aisles, pushing a dolly loaded with a huge box of shopping baskets.

Salespeople paid him no mind. It was only Paul Hunter, the vice president who oversees Nordstrom's Rack Division, making sure that every detail was perfect before the public stormed in. "You do what's necessary," he said.

In the Brass Plum shoe section, Lisa Turner was wiping down a glass display case that seemed to be perfectly clean already, pausing occasionally to straighten displays that didn't seem crooked.

"It's called nerves, and something to do to stay busy," said the newly hired saleswoman.

On the third floor, a company co-chairman, Bruce Nordstrom, was in from Seattle, overseeing last-minute preparations in the men's shoe department and trying to cope with "pre-game tension." It was, he said, like a football kickoff, when the ball's going end over end and it's heading right at you.

Back in the Rack, Mr. Hunter gathered the troops for a last minute pep talk. "Smile," he exhorted them. "Talk to them like you're their neighbor. Be friendly -- that's all we ask of you."

And then it was time to head for the entrances.

"I am ecstatic," gushed Stephany Pierce, the Nordstrom Rack manager, flashing the kind of surreal smile you hardly ever see except at weddings.

When the countdown ended, Ms. Loewe led the charge as customers stampeded into the second-floor entrance. Beaming with surprise, she paused just a second to soak up the applause. "That was neat. That was neat," she said before charging off to shop.

Minutes later, a happy Ms. Minion was holding two bags of cosmetics -- one containing a "perfect foundation for my skin color which I have never been able to find," and the other holding the elusive Chocolate Raspberry lipstick by Fashion Fair.

"I'm just having a perfect day today," Ms. Minion said.

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