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A True New York Story: How Nordstrom Deepened Its Relationship with NYC Locals Amid a Tough Time for Tourism

Nordstrom made a major statement about New York City when it revealed that it was opening not one but two new stores in the city, including its first men’s-only unit.

The 47,000-square-foot men’s store at 235 West 57th St. opened in April 2018, and the 320,000-square-foot women’s store launched in October 2019 across the street. The two locations, which required retrofitting an existing space for the men’s store and a buildout for the women’s unit, came with a price tag reportedly in excess of $500 million. The fact that Nordstrom spared no expense in creating the stores was evident in all the bells and whistles offered to customers. These included a slew of exclusives and collaborations with buzzy brands, unique experiences, same-day delivery, an eclectic assortment of eateries and an enhanced focus on the company’s renowned service.

Since Nordstrom opened, the climate in New York has changed dramatically with former competitors Barneys New York, Jeffrey (which Nordstrom owned) and the new Neiman Marcus at Hudson Yards all closing their doors.

And while the Seattle-based Nordstrom didn’t have long to establish a foothold in the city before the pandemic hit and changed retailing forever, the company has managed to carve out its niche.

The men’s store set the tone, since it opened 18 months earlier than the flagship women’s unit. Although the space has its challenges — the main floor is split in two by the elevator bank of the building in which it’s located, requiring shoppers to exit onto the street or cross over on the lower level or second floor, and the ceilings are low — customer response has been strong.

“We’re so pleased with the initial performance of the men’s store,” said Chris Wanlass, VP and GM of the company’s New York City stores. He said the men’s store helped “pump up the message that we were coming” to New York. “We saw a nice surge in business that has continued. And when the women’s store opened, it really accelerated.”

Wanlass said that what is unique about the men’s store is that it has attracted a lot of men shopping for themselves. And they’re not put off by the unique “doughnut” configuration of the store. Instead, they’re drawn to the “ease of shopping — you just walk right in off the street level. So many times we make men have to hunt.”

While the store is not huge, he said, Nordstrom has still managed to “bring the curated offering and the experiential things, whether it’s our New Concepts or the food and beverage offerings component or the Nordstrom Nike collab.” Wanlass said since the men’s opening, Nordstrom has seen an “expansion in our designer business,” and the shoe business has been “a home run.”

Nordstrom, Men's Store
Nordstrom’s men store in NYC
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

Wanlass also pointed to the employees and the service level as another reason the store has performed well since joining the fray in Manhattan.

While men’s may have given Nordstrom a headstart in Manhattan, the women’s store still shines as the true star in the city. Even though it was forced to close a few months after the opening due to the pandemic, Nordstrom is still upbeat.

“Those first five months were really incredible,” Wanlass said. “We pivoted quickly [during the pandemic]. We immediately moved into fulfilling orders for customers and offering curbside services when the stores were closed through early June 2020. We ramped up our service offerings and digital tools and accelerated a lot of our abilities for our salespeople to communicate and sell to our customers digitally, which helped us in that
three-month period.”

When the stores reopened, he admitted that sales were “a bit slow at first” because so many residents left town and tourism came to a screeching halt. But the number of people coming through the doors, and shopping, is markedly better now.

“In a city like New York, where you do need a high amount of tourism to support the business, it allowed us to deepen our relationship with locals,” Wanlass said. “My goal and our ambition is for us to be considered a hometown store, but to create such an appeal that tourists also want to go there.”

What customers are responding to, he said, are beauty products and services, which has “been a constant since we opened,” and the store recently expanded the selection. It offers more than 100 brands over two floors, including 16 shops, a Lipstick Finder to try on 400 colors through augmented reality, a Fragrance Finder interactive quiz to narrow down the perfect scent, a Beauty Stylist Virtual Mirror to try out makeup looks, and more. There is also the Beauty Haven offering manicures, blowouts, eyebrow shaping and other services.

In addition to beauty, Wanlass said the shoe and designer merchandise at the store has been strong, driven most recently by the special occasion business. And with many women heading back to work, Wanlass said there is also a decided uptick in sales of career clothing.

Additionally, the store’s “curated space,” such as the Center Stage concept that rotates monthly, has been a draw. Among the highlights so far have been the Christian Louboutin and Canada Goose shops, as well as the “pop-in” concept that changes frequently and has proven popular with customers.

The restaurants, including the Shoe Bar cocktail bar, have established “a really good following” and have picked up lately as well, he added.

For the upcoming anniversary, Wanlass is expecting a further uptick. “We’ve seen a really positive response to any kind of events that we’ve been having,” he said. To celebrate the milestone, the store will throw a block party on Oct. 23 that is expected to rival the one it held when the store opened, with bands, food and entertainment.

Although the two Columbus Center stores garner the most attention, Nordstrom operates other spaces in the city: two Nordstrom Rack off-price stores, in Union Square and at 31st Street and Sixth Avenue; and the Nordstrom Local service hubs at 1273 Third Ave. and 13 Seventh Ave. Additionally, there are two Racks in Brooklyn and one in Staten Island.

Wanlass said these stores have become “fast favorites” in their neighborhoods and show that Nordstrom is able to “serve people close to home. It’s been highlighted during COVID-19, people want to shop and they want convenient services. So they can have their packages sent there, do returns, have alterations, meet their stylist close to their house. That’s been an incredible opportunity for us. It’s working in a lot of our markets, but in New York City, with its incredible neighborhoods, to be able to serve so many people is a great spoke in the wheel for us.”

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