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NEW YORK It’s exactly three weeks before the huge Nordstrom women’s flagship opens in Manhattan and the major construction is over, 98 percent of the team has been hired, and merchandise began arriving in earnest last Monday.

On Tuesday, WWD took an early tour of the Nordstrom site to get an understanding of a department store in the making and a sense of all the preparations under way. On Sept. 9, the construction company handed the store over to Nordstrom and that’s when the team starting pulling things together.

[This is the first in a series of articles leading up to the Nordstrom women’s flagship opening in Manhattan]

Inside the 320,000-square-foot, seven-level store, there’s an army of Nordstrom salespeople, department managers, chefs, servers, visual merchandisers, housekeepers — about 1,200 in all — as well as staff from vendor partners, meticulously putting fixtures in place, unpacking merchandise, and in some areas, such as shoes, following the direction of “table menus” taped to tables to designate precisely what brands, trends or categories get placed where. Once the flagship opens, there will be about 900 employees working daily, and about 1,300 in total.

Through the store, several product seminars were being led by vendor reps to inform the sales associates and get them ready to sell. Remaining construction seemed confined to the stair atriums, and much of the merchandise was still under wraps, protected from the dust by cellophane tarps. With most of the hammering over, there was little noise, the air seemed clear and a sense of things under control prevailed amid all the activity.

Nordstrom’s 57th Street exterior is dramatic — an undulating glass facade that enables visitors on the upper floors to step right up to the curved glass and gaze onto the busy blocks below, and lets light pour onto the speckled terrazzo tile floors. At the base of the windows, there are color-changing LEDs to alter the mood and appearance of the store. And from the outside, you can get a glimpse of what’s going on inside. As Nordstrom executives would say, it’s about connectivity with the community.

A department store opening in a major urban area is rare and risky. Retailers have been streamlining and many consumers have become disaffected by the department store experience and have shifted to e-commerce.

Nevertheless, this opening, set for Oct. 24, is special on several accounts. It’s the Seattle-based retailer’s first department store opening in New York City (following recent ones by the Rack off-price and Nordstrom Local service formats in Manhattan) and there’s enormous anticipation and curiosity within retail and fashion circles and among consumers, too. The Nordstrom family took about a decade to find the right site. Locations uptown, downtown and on the east and west sides were checked out and the Nordstroms came close to selecting Hudson Yards late in the search process, but made the switch to 57th Street.

There has been months and months of construction on the flagship site, which is running up a tab said to be far above the initial $500 million budgeted. Situated on Broadway between 57th and 58th Streets on Manhattan’s West Side, the store forms the base of what will become the world’s tallest residential building, called Central Park Tower, which is expected to be completed in 2020.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve overcome was the unique construction of the store. The project encompassed stitching together four separate buildings, partnering with multiple landlords, all while being at the base of the world’s tallest residential building being actively constructed above us,” Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores, told WWD.

“We were also ambitious in our desire to restore the facades of several buildings that front Broadway to create a unified look. Our approach was to build the most modern store possible where we have new construction, and to bring back the historic beauty of three landmark buildings along Broadway. This complex undertaking brought the buildings back to their historical grandeur and really improved the area architecturally. Our goal was to add something special to the neighborhood visually, and we think we accomplished that,” he added.

What’s to be expected from Nordstrom? A comprehensive women’s assortment, particularly in shoes, for which the retailer is most famous. The company was founded as a shoe store in Seattle.

The appeal is to a wider range of customers that might shop Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus, with a “curated breadth of offer,” as Nordstrom executives say, with a “breadth of price points and styles from better to designer to private label, and it covers a variety of lifestyles, from casual to career, to active and evening.”

Per the Nordstrom tradition, there will be a high level of service and amenities, and on 57th Street, there are reminders. The covered-up windows bear messages promoting some of Nordstrom’s services, such as same-day delivery and online order pickups and returns, and there’s a bit of whimsy, with one sign saying, “An open mind is the best look.”

Nordstrom 57th Street is doubling down on food and beverage, with seven concepts, including four restaurants, two bars and even an Oh-Mochi! mochi doughnut shop on the premises.

And in designer areas, tall hexagonal wood fixtures, with metal bars and a concrete base, will showcase the merchandise.

But expect the competition to ratchet up service, price promotions and special events in the days ahead to defend their market shares from the challenge of Nordstrom.

Size-wise, the Nordstrom flagship surpasses the two major department store openings in the city in the last 30 years, including Neiman Marcus last March in Hudson Yards, which came in at 188,000 square feet, as well as the 230,000-square-foot Barneys New York flagship on Madison Avenue, opened in 1993. Bloomingdale’s opened a scaled-down department store in SoHo in 2004 and Saks Fifth Avenue opened a women’s store in Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan in 2016, and closed it early this year, though the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship has been undergoing a dramatic transformation/renovation costing over $250 million.

Entering the new Nordstrom, one is taken by the sense of spaciousness and height despite the vertical character of having seven shopping levels. It’s the most vertical of any Nordstrom store, which are typically two to three floors, though urban flagships tend to be more vertical, such as the five-level Seattle store and the four-level Michigan Avenue, Chicago store.

There’s elbow room and sight-lines clear across the selling floors, just the way Nordstrom likes it. That open plan provides flexibility in either increasing or shrinking the space for brands and categories, depending on selling trends. Also, the escalators, which have distinctive, softly-etched glass sidewalls, are on the east side of the store  rather than in the center of the floor, which is where they are typically in Nordstrom stores.

There’s also a transparency, with chain mail forming designer boutiques that shoppers can see through and which are easily dismantled or adjusted to tweak the floor. Mannequins  designed by Ralph Pucci have a face created exclusively for Nordstrom, and appear in regular and special sizes to project inclusivity. Other mannequins were supplied by Window France.

The sense of scale is furthered by the 19-foot main floor ceiling. Others range from 12 to 20 feet high.

The store has imposing curved edged columns throughout and ceilings with curvatures, reflecting the light. It’s a setting largely devoid of hard edges.

The store is T-shaped, and there’s plenty of access, with entrances on 57th and 58th Streets and Broadway. Nordstrom’s men’s store, opened in April 2018, is just across Broadway.

Two of the selling levels are below ground. Lower level two will house kids, home products and a restaurant. Lower level one will house shoes and various services including order pickups.

The main floor will sell beauty, handbags, sunglasses, accessories and fashion jewelry; level two will house designer handbags, designer shoes and fine jewelry; three will house designer apparel; level four will sell women’s apparel including contemporary and denim, and five will feature more women’s apparel, lingerie and active. Private label merchandise will be found throughout the store.

On Tuesday, the palette of the store appeared predominantly neutral, which will help the clothes to stand out. Yet once all the merchandise is unpacked and displayed, the selling floors will no doubt blossom with color.

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