Nordstrom north

Nordstrom, the U.S. luxury department store, has supposedly been scouting locations in Canada for months. Last May, a spokesman confirmed the story, and every once in a while there’s another reference. A recent article on Larry Rosen, now CEO of men’s clothier Harry Rosen, talked about how he was gearing up for their arrival.

Nordstrom. The very thought makes me salivate. During the research for my book The Eatons, published in 1998, I visited two of the more decrepit Eaton’s stores in Brantford and Sarnia. Then I crossed the border into the U.S. to take a look at the Somerset Collection, a mall in Troy, Michigan. At 10 a.m. Nordstrom was just opening and Millicent Leigh Schneider was playing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on a grand piano on the main floor.

The megamall was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. By comparison, Canada looked third world. In Troy there were four anchors: Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and a local chain, Hudson’s (it’s now a Macy’s). In addition, there were 181 other stores contained in 1.5 million square feet of vaulted gallerias with skylights, palm trees, a score of restaurants, 6,000 employees, and parking for 7,000 cars.

This how retailing is done in America. I’ve also been to Tysons Corners in Virginia, Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas, the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, and South Coast Plaza, in California, among many others. I always buy shirts, socks and underwear at Nordstrom. If you were to make a list of things that Americans do well, retailing would be in the top five. That’s why so many U.S. banners have come to Canada. Their panache and product lines are easy to replicate, although I have to say that service here never quite reaches home country standards.

On the Nordstrom website, they list some eighteen locations (mostly for Nordstrom Rack, their discount outlet) where there’s an opening planned this year and next. Nothing is scheduled for Canada. There is only one international expansion, in Puerto Rico, at a date as yet to be determined.

Here’s my suggestion how Nordstrom could make a quick, splashy and all-encompassing grand entrance into Canada: buy the Holt Renfrew chain. It’s upscale and has 11 stores across Canada including four in the Toronto area. Mall stores, like the one-floor Holts at Sherway Gardens, could easily be converted to the two-floor format Nordstrom favors.

So Galen W. and Galen G. Weston, are you interested in selling? I need some of those Nordstrom shirts.

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