April 13, 2012 in Business

Boise gets Nordstrom Rack

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Shoppers pack a new Nordstrom Rack store in Boise at its grand opening on Thursday morning.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Has the city without a Nordstrom finally ended its sad distinction?

This is Boise, where shoppers used to pack buses bound for the Nordstrom store in Ogden, Utah, to get their fix, until that outlet closed in 1999.

On Thursday, the first Nordstrom store in the state of Idaho opened. It’s not a full-line department store, however, it’s an off-price Nordstrom Rack. The difference: a focus on discounted merchandise, in a 37,000-square-foot store. A full-line Nordstrom department store typically offers 138,000 to 140,000 square feet of shopping.

Happy customers who crowded the newly opened store didn’t seem at all perturbed by the difference. Kristin Magruder, 40, recalled that when she moved to the Boise area from Southern California at the age of 6, “I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t go to the mall and get frozen yogurt.” The reason: “Because, literally, there was no mall.”

Boise’s grown since then, and now has a big shopping mall, Boise Towne Square; a thriving mixed-use downtown; and a plethora of big-box stores. But it still lacked a Nordstrom; Magruder admits to visiting the store in places like Salt Lake City and Portland.

“It’s been nice to see Boise evolve from Hicksville to at least a midsized market,” she said with a smile. “I think we’ll get there eventually.” She added, “It’s nice not to take my shopping out of state.”

The new Boise Nordstrom Rack store was packed with shoppers Thursday morning, and its vast parking lot was full; it’s in a former Linens ’n Things location in a strip-mall development just outside the Boise Towne Square mall.

Joan Endicott, who’s lived near Caldwell, Idaho, for 31 years, remembered shopping at Nordstrom Rack in Portland long ago, and was glad to see it arrive in the area. “They have extraordinary customer service,” she said. “I’m so delighted and excited that it’s here.”

The mostly unadorned store seems almost warehouse-like, but it’s clean and was filled to the brim with merchandise, shoppers and employees who were attentively making sure customers were finding what they sought.

Nordstrom spokeswoman Kendall Ault said, “This was an exact fit for a Nordstrom Rack store. A lot of things have to fall into place in order for us to open a full-line store in a market. … We know we’re fortunate to have a lot of customers in the area, and we wanted to find a way to better serve them.”

The new Boise store is Nordstrom’s 106th Rack store, and Boise is the third city to get a Nordstrom Rack without also having a full-line Nordstrom department store – the other two are Tucson, Ariz., just this past fall, and Manhattan, N.Y.

Nordstrom was developing full department stores in midsized cities like Ogden back in the 1970s, but it couldn’t find a spot in Boise, as the city tussled over shopping malls and downtown redevelopment. “They just skipped over us,” said former Boise Mayor Brent Coles.

When a delegation of Boise city officials, including then-Mayor Dirk Kempthorne, visited Nordstrom headquarters in Seattle in 1986, they found that Boise had missed its chance. By then, Nordstrom was only building new department stores in communities with at least a million people.

In 1987, when the Ogden Nordstrom first started busing Boise shoppers down to Utah, the “Buy Idaho” campaign protested vigorously to no avail; so many shoppers signed up that the contract bus company ran out of buses and had to cut off registration at 280.

A distraught Karleane Allen, then-executive director of Buy Idaho, told the Associated Press that July, “It’s an interesting marketing strategy, to find our weak point, and Nordstrom is our weak point … knowing how much everybody wants them here.”

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