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NEW YORK — Let the real story be told: Nordstrom Inc. wants to dominate Manhattan’s West Side.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Nordstrom has escalated its New York flagship strategy from the single building disclosed in June 2012 to four buildings, thereby growing the space from 285,000 square feet to 363,000 square feet, WWD has learned.

That will establish Nordstrom’s Manhattan flagship as the retailer’s second-largest store. Only the Seattle flagship is larger at 383,000 square feet.

“It’s complicated. It’s exciting. There’s a lot to consider and every day we feel more and more optimistic,” Pete Nordstrom, Nordstrom Inc.’s co-president, said about the Manhattan project.

The Nordstrom family had long rejected the notion of opening a Manhattan flagship, turned off by the high costs, construction hassles and competition associated with New York. However, after the fourth generation of Nordstroms assumed control in 2001, the search for a site began in earnest. After years of rejecting potential sites all over town, the Nordstroms have assembled four neighboring parcels in the Columbus Circle area, creating a formidable footprint in a pocket of the city that’s filled with affluent residents and tourists yet remains a relative void in terms of fashion retailing.

In addition to 225 West 57th Street, the flagship’s biggest component, and 3 Columbus Circle for a men’s wear annex, Nordstrom is taking space in 5 Columbus Circle, on the southeast side of Broadway and 58th Street, and at 1776 Broadway, on the northeast corner of 57th Street and Broadway.

WWD has also learned that the flagship will open sometime in 2019, instead of 2018 as previously announced, due to the complexity of the project. The Manhattan flagship marks the retailer’s first full-line New York location. Nordstrom has been eying lower Manhattan for a possible second location but has not found a site there.

By building a bigger mousetrap on the West Side, Nordstrom has a better shot at securing the labels it wants for Manhattan and presenting it all in a mutually agreeable manner. For sure, the competition will be defending their turf by pressuring suppliers to shun the new kid in the neighborhood and beefing up their own assortments and services. That’s something the Seattle-based Nordstrom has dealt with during decades of national expansion, but New York is a special case. It’s not just a matter of creating a flagship – it’s about building an enduring monument to the brand, generating huge volumes to justify costs, and being under the glare of consumers, designers, suppliers and competitors from around the world like never before.

Nordstrom has wasted no time wooing designers and brands. Preliminary conversations commenced right after the announcement in 2012. “Now that the finish line is in site, those conversations have become more specific,” Nordstrom noted.

The central issue is that in Manhattan, designers and luxury already have built up distribution elsewhere in the city via Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, specialty stores such as Scoop and Intermix, and their own stores. And as Nordstrom himself acknowledged, “A big part of what makes designer luxury work is scarcity.”

However, “space creates flexibility and if you are going to partner with brands, you’ve got to consider things that are important to them,” Nordstrom pointed out. “Often it’s the amount of space and the adjacencies.…One of the things that will help with vendors is that we’ve got this West Side orientation that is somewhat unique” and not really close to where department and designer stores are concentrated, on Fifth Avenue or East 57th Street. “We had to be thoughtful about choosing the location.”

While Nordstrom won’t be Manhattan’s largest anchor — Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor all have bigger footprints — “it’s going to be the best Nordstrom store — the newest one with a lot of exciting elements” rising ambitiously to the status of  “international flagship,” Nordstrom said. “It can’t be just another nice regional store. It’s got to be better.”

Though it’s premature to discuss specific labels to be carried or how the store will be laid out, “we are going to have designers in that store and we will have the ability to have designers represent their brands” to their satisfaction, Nordstrom assured. “Maybe we have some hard shops. Maybe some softer ideas. It’s important to say we are working to collaborate with vendor partners to make sure it works for them and for us.”

The flagship will be composed of:

  • 225 West 57th Street, the heart of the Manhattan flagship situated on 57th between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It will have seven levels and 292,000 square feet at the base of Extell Development Co.’s Central Park Tower, which will be the world’s tallest residential building at 1,550 feet high, with a spire reaching another 200 feet. There will a main entrance on 57th Street and others at 1780 Broadway between 57th and 58th Streets, and on 58th Street.
  • 1776 Broadway, at the intersection of West 57th Street and Broadway, owned by ULM Holding Corp. Nordstrom is leasing four floors covering 20,000 square feet.
  • 5 Columbus Circle, on the southeast side of 58th Street and Broadway. Nordstrom is leasing 8,000 square feet on the ground floor in a building owned by 1790 Broadway Associates.
  • 3 Columbus Circle, the Nordstrom men’s store. It will be Nordstrom’s first freestanding men’s unit, occupying 43,000 square feet over three levels in a building owned by SL Green and The Moinian Group. It’s on the northwest side of Broadway and 57th Street.

The combined spaces will have a long, unbroken footprint extending 200 feet on 57th Street to Broadway, 200 feet along the Broadway block between 57th and 58th Streets, and another 274 feet along 58th Street. The sites are expected to open simultaneously in 2019 and be interconnected so shoppers can access them all from inside.

The Nordstrom men’s store could open at the same time or sooner, but not after, according to Nordstrom officials. It wouldn’t be the first time an upscale retailer decided to operate an annex in close proximity to a main store. Bergdorf Goodman, for example, operates its women’s flagship on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets and a smaller men’s store on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue. In addition, Saks Fifth Avenue has decided to open separate women’s and men’s stores at Brookfield Place in downtown Manhattan. Nordstrom has no other freestanding men’s stores on the drawing boards, though executives don’t preclude the possibility.

Given the different architectures, the facades of Nordstrom’s flagship will be noticeably different, though there will be some consistency of exterior materials. The interiors are going to be “all complementary with a unified feel for sure,” said Nordstrom. “The 3 Columbus Circle building is the one that poses most of the challenge. It’s a completely different building with its own unique issues, but they will all be tied together in terms of the way they look inside, thematically.”

From the outset of its Manhattan venture, Nordstrom contemplated a flagship with an array of real estate, but held back on divulging the plan in its entirety until all the pieces were finalized. The deal for 225 West 57th Street, and the leases for 5 Columbus Circle and 1776 Broadway, were done well in advance of the recent signing of 3 Columbus Circle.

“We kept thinking that we are only going to get one chance at this and we didn’t want to look back and regret we could have done this or that, or the other thing,” said Nordstrom. “It became clear there would be some compromises, and it would be great if we had 30,000 more square feet. But this is a decent amount of square footage.” Enough, he emphasized, to present “the best of Nordstrom.”

Could any additional parcels be added to the footprint? “I really doubt it,” Nordstrom said. “But you’ve got to stay open to anything that could come along that could make it better.”

Despite Nordstrom’s unusual aggregation of Manhattan real estate, “our fundamental principles are not changing,” said Dawn Clark, vice president of store design, architecture and construction. “It’s related to our relationships with our customers. It’s about service and how in the design we want to reflect that spirit of warmth and embrace an environment that’s not formal or stuffy.”

The center of 225 West 57th will be “just like our other stores — you’ve got that core escalator and atrium that binds it all,” she said.

A key difference is the vertical character of 225 West 57th Street, having seven levels including two below ground. “These are not large floor plates. It will be very easy to see everything from where you are standing and these separate buildings may be a little of a discovery process because you have got to go through a portal to get into them from the inside,” Clark observed.

“The other piece is about being very flexible and open, and not overbuilding or designing. We are making things very fluid. That’s the Nordstrom ‘definer.'”

Nordstrom is redefining the store exterior in a striking way and is compelled to do so, being at the base of what will be the world’s tallest residential tower. James Carpenter of James Carpenter Design Associates Inc. and known for working with light and glass, has created exteriors for 225 West 57th Street and the opposite side of the building on 58th Street composed of undulating parabolic waves of glass, top to bottom.

According to Carpenter — whose past glass projects include the Gucci flagship on Tokyo’s Ginza in Tokyo; 7 World Trade Center; the Bornholm Museum in Denmark, and Jazz at Lincoln Center — Nordstrom’s glass facade will be a beacon unlike any other department store, beckoning shoppers to ascend the levels as people gaze up into the glass.

“If you had a flat facade on the street, there would be reflection on the glass. You couldn’t really look into the space,” Carpenter said. “But if you have this curve, whatever is inside is highly visible from the street, and vice versa. You will get that sense of openness and light all the way through the store.”

“It provides all these oblique angles so you can walk out into a wave and look down to the street, in a way you would never be able to do with a flat wall,” added Clark. “From the outside you can look up and see an oblique visual presentation. James came up with this wave idea after studying many other possibilities — cast glass, tubes. We were looking for something that would create a very unique connection between people who were outside and people who are inside — something that was very human-centered in its design. Way beyond just standing out and being something pretty to look at, it becomes an experience. The bending of this glass is highly specialized. Only a handful of people in the world can bend glass of this scale. There’s just nothing like it.”

The glass waves will be of different amplitudes. “We wanted it to feel natural, not overly manufactured or predictable,” said Clark. The two glass facades require 332 panels of glass in six sizes, the average being 19 feet tall.

“We really embrace the idea of bringing natural light into the stores, partly because it makes people feel good and partly because it’s dynamic, it’s changing all day long,” said Clark. “It animates the space in a way that human beings are wired.”

The glass for the 225 West 57th Street facade is produced in Germany, curved in Barcelona, framed in Windsor, Conn., and fritted with subtle gray dots that reduce glare and fading and soften the quality of light.

The unorthodox exterior means Nordstrom won’t have typical display windows. “We are kind of seeing the entire store as a window,” Clark said. “We have a more modern point of view on the display window. So it’s no longer a box, we have made it something that is accessible. That doesn’t mean you can’t create some fabulous Christmas window, but we might enclose it in a different way, with some temporary enclosure, or it might be a layer of light. We are experimenting with some screening things that can actually capture light. It goes back to our principal of keeping things fluid and changeable.”

Regarding the interior design, “Our approach is always about an integrated experience. We are not building a lot of separate shops inside our spaces, like a lot of larger stores tend to do,” Clark explained. “That’s a trademark Nordstrom thing — things are open, visible.”

Having a group of connected buildings “gives us these special rooms,” Clark said. “You can curate to these roomlike spaces. It’s easier to experience coming to each floor. In some giant stores it is hard to find your way. Nordstrom will have a floor plate more like Bergdorf Goodman. It’s not Saks or Bloomingdale’s, in terms of the scale of the experience. But the big difference is this quality of light and space.”

“This is a onetime opportunity,” she continued. “There hasn’t been a store of this scale built on the streets of Manhattan for a long time. This is the opportunity to embrace something and benefit from all the technology we have now, even the technology of the glass makers.”

Among other features at the flagship will be high ceilings; long sight lines; atriums; an interior staircase in 225 West 57th to the lower levels, and movable wire mail intermittently hung behind the glass exterior for a shimmering effect to create moods.

Additionally, Nordstrom will be rebuilding the facade at 5 Columbus Circle to evoke the original design, a landmarked 1911 Beaux-Arts style building built for the U.S. Rubber Co. and designed by Carrere & Hastings with a rounded corner reminiscent of the Flatiron Building. Nordstrom will also restore the landmarked facade at 1780 Broadway.

There have been reports that Nordstrom is spending at least $300 million on 225 West 57th alone, though in a recent 10Q, the company stated, “Plans for our Manhattan full-line store ultimately include owning a condominium interest in a mixed-use tower and leasing certain nearby properties. As of Oct. 31, 2015, we had approximately $176 million of fee interest in land, which is expected to convert to a condominium interest once the store is constructed. We have committed to make future installment payments based on the developer meeting pre-established construction and development milestones.”

Pete Nordstrom said the Manhattan flagship will be “by far” the company’s most expensive store ever built, and also the retailer’s highest-volume store. He declined to cite any figures on the total projected cost or expected revenues.

“We believe the West Side customer is underserved,” Nordstrom said. “We ended up picking this location for a reason — the combination of being able to build something really exciting and interesting and doing it in a neighborhood that’s underserved.”

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