Cheryl Shado grew up with the Nordstrom store at Northgate Mall.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Shado’s family would drive up from Queen Anne to the mall to do their annual back-to-school shopping at Nordstrom and the Bon Marche.
In the 1970s, when Shado was a teenager, she got a job at the baby photo studio at nearby J.C. Penney, and spent her lunch breaks combing through Nordstrom’s vast selection of elegant designer labels.
As a young mother in the 1980s, Shado took her three daughters for “lady lunches” at the Nordstrom cafe. When the girls were in their teens, Shado took them to Nordstrom for their homecoming and prom dresses and makeup, and their first grown-up fragrances.
More than half a century later, Shado, who lives now in Lake Forest Park, still visits the Northgate store so frequently the employees know her by name. “I’m usually at Nordstrom here once every couple of weeks,” said Shado, 65, who was at the store Friday afternoon. “I always try and be true to this Nordstrom.”
Starting Saturday, Shado will need to go somewhere else.
At 5 p.m. Friday, the Northgate Nordstrom, one of the oldest locations in the Seattle-based retailer’s national empire, and an icon for generations of Puget Sound residents, shut its doors forever.
The closure, announced in June, comes amid a major redevelopment of Northgate Mall, much of which is being made over into apartments, commercial office space and a training facility for the city’s new NHL team.
It’s also part of turnaround efforts by Nordstrom as it confronts a retail market turned upside-down by online competition and changing consumer preferences — not least a shift away from consumers who saw shopping malls and department stores as places for socializing and rites of passage.
The company’s closures of some big stores, echoed at other retailers, have been cheered by analysts, who say Nordstrom has little choice but to close underperforming locations and focus on those that can still turn a profit.
Indeed, by some accounts, the Northgate Nordstrom simply hasn’t been able to generate the same level of business as some of the other locations.
But for Seattle-area residents of a certain vintage, the closure of the Northgate Nordstrom will mark a bittersweet end to a unique piece of Seattle history.
When Nordstrom opened in the then-new Northgate Mall in 1950 (initially, selling shoes only), both pioneering mall and store were part of the leading edge of an emerging retail model. In the years that followed, as malls popped up in even midsized towns, national department-store chains went with them.
But even as the Nordstrom empire expanded, eventually growing to nearly 400 stores in 40 states, the Northgate location remained special. Though not as grand as the flagship Nordstrom store in downtown Seattle, the Northgate location lacked none of the cachet or sense of refined elegance.
Seventy-year-old Tina Kaempfer, a former Nordstrom employee who was also at the Northgate store on Friday, said Seattle families knew they could count on Nordstrom for both quality clothing and a quality experience. As a child she often visited the Nordstrom at Northgate for birthday parties and shopping trips with her mother, before getting a job at the now-shuttered Macy’s and then at the Nordstrom corporate office, where she worked for over a decade.
When her own teenagers “wanted to go to those mall stores with the horrible loud music and the clothes that fell apart, I said nope,” Kaempfer said. “The atmosphere [at Nordstrom] is clean and lovely.”
In some ways, the Northgate closure was inevitable as the Seattle of that era makes way for the current edition.
With soaring demand for housing, and with the arrival of a Northgate light-rail station, the mall property is simply too valuable to leave for shopping alone. As Alexander Goldfarb, a senior real-estate analyst at Sandler O’Neill + Partners in New York, put it in June, Northgate “is an incredible piece of real estate that is worth more in another form.”
On Friday, Nordstrom made an effort to prop up the mood. Employees set up a DJ and photo booth between the women’s handbags and men’s suits for employees and customers, who lined up for last-day mementos. Still, the mood in the store felt restrained and sad.
Now, outside the store, the mall was like a ghost town, filled with echoes of bygone stores.
Claire’s, Loft and Sunglass Hut had their security grilles pulled down permanently. Other stores bore faint imprints of signage that had been removed. Right across from Nordstrom, the skeletal remains of Macy’s had brown paper covering the windows. On the dark, empty windows of many stores, mall employees had put up posters promising “More shopping in the works.”
Kaempfer sees a significant loss for a younger generation, one that she says mostly buys online.
“The teenagers around here … they won’t have a place, a mall. And I think a mall is an important place for kids.”
Most of the people at Nordstrom on Friday seemed to be there to have their pictures taken and get one last look at the place that for many epitomized the shopping experience.
“We’re going to miss Nordstrom,” said Elizabeth Mares, a Shoreline resident who has shopped there for three decades, and came by Friday with her 5-year-old grandson.
Over by a gallery wall of black-and-white photos from Nordstrom, Mares was pointing out things to her grandson.
“I’m telling him about the memories,” Mares said. “It’s bittersweet.”
Though Shado said she’ll visit the downtown Nordstrom more often, her days of frequent shopping are moving online. She said that store’s larger size selection is shrinking, too.
“Now there’s one or two in this size, or one or two in that size,” she said. “So they’ve been transitioning us old people into buying online.”