NEW YORK — Planning for a Nordstrom flagship in New York City officially began in 2012. But its opening, on Thursday, is the culmination of decadeslong ambition.
After a yearslong hunt for suitable real estate, the vaunted Seattle retailer finally has a place among New York’s retail pantheon: Bergdorf Goodman. Saks Fifth Avenue. Bloomingdale’s. Barneys.
Now, analysts say, the question is whether the seven-story flagship, the retailer’s first women’s store in New York, will propel the company’s faltering revenue or sink Nordstrom into the red.
By some accounts, Nordstrom is putting a $500 million bet on the former. The company, which led reporters on a tour of the glossy store Monday, won’t say how much it has invested.
But in a slick promotional video for assembled journalists, Nordstrom’s leadership said that “the stakes are super high” for this store.
Sectorwide, big-box stores have seen falling revenue as customers defect to e-commerce — one part of Nordstrom’s business that’s seen positive growth in recent quarters.
But the company’s leadership believes that shoppers will want to buy in person at what they characterized on a Monday tour as a “world-class” store. That’s based in part, they say, on their experience last year opening a ritzy two-story men’s store across the street from the flagship, though men’s apparel has seen stronger returns than women’s in past years. In New York City, Nordstrom also operates two off-price Nordstrom Racks and two recently opened Nordstrom Locals, where customers can pick up, try on and have alterations made to clothes they’ve ordered online.
At one point this summer, Nordstrom was trading 60% down from last autumn’s high of $66 per share, the lowest price point in 10 years, while the S&P index for the retail sector doubled in the same period. Share prices have rebounded slightly since then, but revenues are still in a slump, due in part to what executives acknowledged this spring were “executional misses.”
For the store to succeed, it will have to move substantially more product than Nordstrom branches in lower-rent locations.
The New York flagship sits at the base of the tallest residential building in the world, the pencil-thin, ultra-high-end, 1,550-foot-tall Central Park Tower at 225 W. 57th St., which is still under construction. So many similar towers, where condos sell in the tens of millions of dollars, have been built along the southern edge of Central Park that the neighborhood is known as “Billionaires’ Row.”
Billionaires, Nordstrom says, come on in.
While aiming to sell “everything from Vans to Valentinos,” as Chief Merchandising Officer Teri Bariquit put it, this store is aimed at an appreciably high-end consumer, especially compared to Nordstrom’s now-shuttered Northgate branch.
On entry, the design is still clearly Nordstrom: It’s big, bright and white.
But there are subtle differences between this store and Nordstrom’s other offerings. For one, there aren’t very many clothes on the racks — signalling that the shopping experience here aspires to boutique-ishness.
The whole third floor is given over to designer apparel, where brands like Chloe, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent have staked out pastel-toned showrooms, each half-hidden behind wire mesh curtains. (Does it call to mind burnished chain mail? Or a chain-link fence? The jury’s out.)
In the children’s department, past the miniature Fendi rack, tots can watch the shoes they want to try on roll out on a carousel.
Downstairs, Nordstrom has partnered with Burberry and Nike to build out pocket shops within the department store, showing off the brands’ top-line offerings.
Up two flights of stairs from the main level, the Burberry space is papered on walls, ceiling and floors with the London coatmaker’s new orange-and-white logo. Around the corner: A miniature reproduction of a fashion runway, complete with high-polish coliseum seating, charging orchestral music and a rack of very elaborate trenchcoats hanging over the “runway.” In the showroom, lushly carpeted in taupe, scarves were pinned on the cabinets like trophy skins affixed to a wall.
It’s a lot to take in.
Though perhaps not for New Yorkers, because just down the steps, the Nordstrom x Nike shop is tricked out with walls of red velvet. A sheer gold gown (not by Nike, because “nobody wears head-to-toe one brand anyway,” according to Vice President for Creative Projects Olivia Kim, who helped design the space) hangs in a mock window framed by rose quartz. Chewed-up bits of recycled athletic track, reconstituted into couches and tables, shimmer gently under lights. And of course: There are many, many sneakers.
The store spans two airy basement and five aboveground levels, but there are enough alcoves to make it feel warrenlike.
Across the jewelry floor – where there is a machine to permanently solder bracelets onto shoppers’ wrists, and staff of jewelry maker Maria Tash are on hand part of the week to pierce ears and then fill those piercings with diamonds and gold — makeup is sold in the Beauty Hall. Up another flight of stairs is Beauty Haven, a full-service spa with tropic decor inspired by the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Another hidey-hole: The restaurant Wolf, on the second floor, operated by Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell of Tavolata and How to Cook a Wolf fame. Wolf also feeds a bistro, awash in a pattern of pale pink roses, located in the Burberry space.
On the menu, nods to Seattle abound, including dishes with Beecher’s cheese. The food is largely an upscale version of what’s served at a Nordstrom Cafe (pasta, salad, steak, fish).
Nordstrom has been in the restaurant business for 70 years, but this branch contains more places to eat than any other location, said head of restaurants Vince Rosetti — part of the company’s plan to lure shoppers into the space by offering nonapparel services.
Downstairs, Seattle’s other celebrity chef, Tom Douglas, operates two full-service restaurants — Hani Pacific, Asian-inspired; and Jeannie, Italian-inspired — and an outpost of his OH Mochi Donuts (eatable in Seattle at Via6 at Sixth Avenue and Lenora Street). Three other restaurants, including a cocktail bar in the shoe section, bring the total of food options to seven.
A whole subset of the store’s services cater specifically to New Yorkers, including gift wrapping (“We learned through market research that New Yorkers don’t have space to store wrapping paper,” a spokesperson said); personalization (for instance, custom denim embroidery); stroller tune-ups (necessary, in the city where people walk more than anywhere else in America, per FitBit); and 24-hour pick-up for online orders (especially useful for jet-lagged travelers, said Senior Vice President for Customer Service Shea Jensen).
Part of Nordstrom’s strategy for success with this store relies on just those travelers: tourists, who can learn about the Nordstrom brand for the first time at the flagship, then order online in their home countries.
But fashion consultant Nancy Jiang, spotted entering a Coach store at the high-end Columbus Center mall two blocks away from Nordstrom’s 57th Street perch, said she didn’t know whether tourists could support an entire store. Jiang, a former Ralph Lauren vice president, said she isn’t yet sold on the idea of the new Nordstrom.
“You think about Nordstrom more like a mall,” she said. “It’s not typical New York.”
The New York location, said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, underlines Nordstrom’s plans to continue investing in in-person shopping. But, he said, only time will tell whether the store will be a success.
“What the (New York store) does is up for debate,” he said. “Is it a brand ambassador? Is it a place people go to experience?”
Or, most important for the store: “Is it a place where people go to buy?”