How far would you go to shop at Nordstrom? How about a six-hour bus ride from Boise to Ogden, Utah, for two days of shopping followed by a bus ride back?
Believe it or not, Boiseans have been doing this for years. The next bus leaves July 15.
You see, Boise is the City Without a Nordstrom. Boiseans know that, and sigh about it. Those car license plate rims that say “I’d rather be shopping at Nordstrom” are conspicuous here.
“It’s just a classy store,” said Boisean Julie Netz, who’s taken the bus trip “two or three” times. “The clerks are extremely helpful, and just the atmosphere …”
When Netz hasn’t taken the bus trip to Nordstrom’s two big sales each year, she’s generally headed over to Portland, an eight-hour drive, or combined shopping with a visit to relatives in San Francisco. “I haven’t missed a sale for some time.”
“I like being able to find an entire outfit, from shoes to dress to jewelry, and just the overall shopping ambience that Nordstrom offers,” said Sharlyn Williams of Boise, another Nordstrom fan. “I wish Boise had one.”
Bus riders leave at 7 a.m. on a Saturday from a high school parking lot. They arrive at Nordstrom in Ogden at 1 p.m. Their weekend is then filled with shopping, a fashion show, shopping, cosmetic make-overs, shopping, and an hour of private shopping on Sunday before the store opens. They leave at 4 p.m. Sunday. The whole deal, counting the hotel, costs just $65 a person.
“We definitely know when they’re here,” said Stacy Johnson of the Ogden store.
It’s got to be hard to miss. Two hundred shoppers are the average, on four buses, sometimes more. Most come from Boise, although there are some picked up in Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
Nordstrom has been running the buses for nine years, twice a year in July and November.
It’s not that city leaders haven’t tried to get a Nordstrom here. Boise Mayor Brent Coles has rueful memories of a trip to Seattle to woo the upscale clothing retailer in the mid-‘80s.
Unfortunately, Boise had missed the boat. Back in the ‘70s, Nordstrom was building stores in smaller markets. Like Boise. Like Ogden.
The chain came to Boise, but couldn’t find anyplace to put a store. There was no shopping mall, nor was one allowed, and much of downtown had been leveled for a mall that never was built.
“They just skipped over us,” Coles said.
Today, Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White is polite but noncommittal when asked about Boise. “Through 1998, we don’t have plans to move into Idaho,” she said. “That doesn’t mean never.”
About 1986, a bevy of city officials including Coles and then-Mayor Dirk Kempthorne went to see John Nordstrom in Seattle. He told them Boise was a nice place, but his store was now only interested in building in communities with at least a million people. The Boise area barely topped a quarter of that.
The Boise delegation walked out of the retailer’s airy conference room to a bank of elevators, pushed a button, and walked into the first one that stopped. As the doors closed behind them, they realized they were in a freight elevator with padded walls. They pushed the only button.
“It took us straight to the basement,” Coles said. “It was the perfect analogy for what had happened to us.”
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