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Nordstrom: It All Starts with the Shoes

From humble beginnings, chain has gained a cachet for its overall quality and selection – yet sizing and fitting of its shoes remains a hallmark that has endeared it most of all.

When the developers of the coming Mayfair Collection in the Burleigh Triangle first hinted more than a year and a half ago that a Nordstrom Rack store would be a likely tenant, and more recently confirmed it, there was subdued excitement.

"Nice to have the Nordstrom name here, finally," was the prevailing sentiment – "but wish it were a full-line Nordstrom store."

After Thursday's announcement that Wauwatosa will, indeed, have its wish, a three-level Nordstrom department store at Mayfair Mall come late 2015, the enthusiasm of shoppers is nigh onto unbridled.

"I was jumping up and down with excitement when I saw it on the news," Christine Brown Wyatt said on Fox Point-Bayside Patch's Facebook page. "Not too safe to do while on a treadmill at The WAC! Oh so excited."

Maggie Wright: "As much as I hate driving over there, if it was at Bayshore, we'd be broke."

Rachel Young: "This is the best news I've heard all week! My friend and I have already planned a weekend shopping trip for November 2015! Shoes will be my first stop, no doubt!"

And from Susan McPherson: "Love love love. Difficult to wait until 2015 though!"

The endorsements were particularly gratifying to Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson.

"We started out as a shoe store," Johnson said, "and a small one at that. Just a little family shoe shop in Seattle."

Built from the ground up on fit as well as style

That was in 1901, and it stayed that way a long time.

"It wasn't until the '60s that we even started to sell apparel," Johnson said.

From that humble beginning in the footwear business and late entry in the department store field, Nordstrom grew rapidly, not just in scale and scope but in reputation – making its name stand above the crowd and among the likes of  famous houses such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Nordstrom now has 117 full-line stores and 119 Nordstrom Racks, the company's economy, clearance and discount line. The full stores' designer apparel lines are considered on par with the best that department stores can offer.

But for many shoppers like Knuth, it's still all about the shoes, and not just the styles.

"Proper fit and feel are so important," Johnson said. "Careful shoppers are not only after a look. It has to fit right, not just close."

Johnson said that Nordstrom had never let go of that concern after growing beyond the shoe business, and has always wanted to serve shoppers who need special sizes that most stores don't carry because there isn't enough demand for them.

"We'll even sell split sizes," Johnson said – for instance, a left 8 and a right 9 for someone whose feet don't quite match.

Nearby Rack will offer shoppers full spectrum

While those willing to pay Nordstrom's prices for top-line style and quality have, like Knuth, been willing to drive to the Chicago area for them – and two years from now won't have to – less demanding or more frugal shoppers should welcome the Nordstrom Rack on Burleigh just as much.

In fact, those with a knowledge of Nordstrom's business model might have guessed that the coming of a Rack was a precursor of news of the bigger store to follow.

"We really like to have a Rack nearby," Johnson said, "and most of our stores do. We even put a Rack in the basement of our flagship store in downtown Seattle.

"If you're going shopping, you're not always looking just for top-tier items, or just for bargains – you're looking for it all, what you need or what suits you across a range of prices," Johnson said.

"So, do you want to have to drive an hour to find that? Some of our customers browse in our full-line stores and then go compare what they see to the styles they can find in the Rack. And that is more than fine with us."

"So, in Wauwatosa, the Rack will be, what, a mile away from Mayfair, if even that?" Johnson said. "That's an easy decision for anyone to make."

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