Nordstrom suits up

Retailing: The days before Opening Day at the Columbia store are devoted to polishing the racks and the manners.

September 17, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

The truffles haven't come in yet. The art of transferring a phone call is still being practiced. The mannequins are naked.

But when Nordstrom opens today in Columbia, these crunch-time complications will be history.

Nearly 300 buyers, salespeople and other members of the store's team are gliding through the preparations with style.

There is even mood music. Nordstrom pianist Diane Waslick plays "Piano Man" and other selections from her retail repertoire.

Less than two days before the opening, it's just a matter of fine-tuning, tweaking, "making sure we're perfect," says store manager Joe Greco.

Sure, those empty Lancome boxes need to be trashed. Excess cash registers have to be returned. The back wall of Brass Plum, the trendy clothing department for teen girls, needs another coat of fresh brick-red paint.

And the star of the front display case in fine jewelry is yet to be discovered. Georgeann Riley, manager of the department, is leaning toward the tattoo-style coiled choker.

In the shoe department, amid glitter-encrusted monster platforms and patriotic-patterned Doc Martenses, salespeople are going through a dress rehearsal. Fellow employees play the part of shoppers.

Vicki Nozback is pleased with how her tan suede booties coordinate with her wacky socks. But Nozback, who will be working in Brass Plum, will have to wait until the store actually opens.

"I can't buy anything else until I get a paycheck," she says to Cortland Wylie, the shoe salesman waiting on her.

Upstairs, a group of employees is being addressed, motivational-speaker style, by a womens-wear buyer stressing the importance of the follow-up phone call after a major purchase or delivery. ("I know what you're thinking, `I don't have time to return all these calls.' ")

Phone calls are the topic of yet another session taking place in Brass Plum. In this case, it's transferring phone calls.

After detailed instruction, two saleswomen simulate a real-life phone transfer, smiles and super-polite voices in full effect. Mission accomplished.

Nearby, employees tackle the little things.

Sales associate Jane Lehr polishes clothing racks with waxed paper to enhance hanger mobility.

"I've never done this before in my life," she says.

But she'll definitely do it again. It works, and she's eager to try it at home.

Downstairs, 71-year-old employee Marvin Jacobs gets a lesson in fine folding. He's working in the Faconnable department, a line developed in France especially for Nordstrom. Pattie Miller, a Faconnable buyer, demonstrates the proper way to fold a dress shirt: Put a pin in to tighten. Straighten cardboard. Bow display just enough to reveal the label on the pocket. Then give it a little squeeze.

"Like you're doing a Charmin," says Jacobs.

In a store window, Thomas Griffis, visual merchandising director at the Norfolk, Va., store, pats down the gray coat collar of the mannequin he's positioning and notices that his "girl" is wobbly. "She needs a nail underneath her foot," he says.

The mannequins in their elegant gray and black attire, the Brass Plum staff in mostly pink twin sets and black slacks and other well-heeled employees look at home in the Nordstrom setting as they fold clothes, transfer calls or even take a nail in the foot.

What it comes down to is this: Everyone is doing a part to make shopping an even more divine pursuit than it already is.

And that's no easy task.

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