New Yorkers Embrace Nordstrom’s Women’s, Men’s Stores

·8 min read

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 Street, which opened in April 2018, and the 320,000-square-foot women’s store, across the street at 225 West 57th Street in Columbus Circle, were the first new department stores to open in the city in decades. The two stores, which included 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.

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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.

As co-president Pete Nordstrom said at the time of the women’s store’s opening: “Part of what gives us an advantage is just having a newer building and everything that goes with that. With any of our competitors, their buildings are old and things have changed over the years quite a bit, not the least are the data, technology and digital aspects. They impact the physical shopping experience.”

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

But 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 Nordstrom men’s store opened 18 months before the women’s.
The Nordstrom men’s store opened 18 months before the women’s.

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, vice president and general manager of the company’s New York City stores. “There’s something super special about a shop for men, and customers really responded positively.”

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. “We see a lot of self-shopping,” he said. And they’re not put off by the unique “doughnut” configuration of the store.

The Nordstrom x Nike collaboration.
The Nordstrom x Nike collaboration.

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 and journey.”

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. Those things have been great because pound for pound, there’s a lot that we were able to put in there.”

In terms of merchandise, Wanlass said since the opening, Nordstrom has seen an “expansion in our designer business,” and the shoe business has been “a home run.”

Wanlass also pointed to the employees and the service level as another reason the store has performed well since joining the fray in Manhattan. As a result, the plan is to retain the men’s store as a stand-alone and not bring the category into the women’s unit. “We are really satisfied with the business there, so there’s no plan or discussion around that.”

Chris Wanlass
Chris Wanlass

Even so, don’t expect any other men’s-only stores in other cities around the country. Wanlass said when planning the New York women’s store, it became clear that there wasn’t really room to also showcase men’s wear properly, hence the decision to let it stand on its own: “It allowed us to create the fullest expression of our brand but it’s unique to New York. I don’t think we have an ambition to do men’s stores outside our normal stores anywhere else.”

While men’s may have given Nordstrom a headstart in Manhattan, the women’s store still shines as the true star in the city. The store is located in the tallest residential building in the world and offers New Yorkers and visitors “the biggest and best statement of what the brand has to offer,” the company boasted in October 2019 when it debuted with a glitzy opening-night extravaganza.

Even though it was forced to close a few months after the opening due to the pandemic, Nordstrom is still upbeat about its performance and its future.

“Those first five months were really incredible,” Wanlass said. “We pivoted quickly. We immediately moved into fulfilling orders for customers and offering curbside services when the stores were closed through early June. 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 really 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.

The women’s store is open and airy.
The women’s store is open and airy.

“In a city like New York, where you do need a high amount of tourism to support the business, it allowed us to really 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 these customers are responding to, he said, include beauty products and services, which has “been a constant since we opened,” and the store recently expanded the beauty offering to further capitalize on the popularity of the category.

The store 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.

Wanlass said that once the company realized beauty was going to be a big draw, it was able to “flex and evolve very quickly” to expand the offering even further.

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 for weddings, parties and travel that are being rescheduled after pandemic cancellations.

The women’s store was built from the ground up.
The women’s store was built from the ground up.

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. “We’re building some momentum behind that,” he said. “People are always excited to see something new.”

Among the highlights so far have been the Louboutin and Canada Goose shops as well as the “pop-in” concept that changes frequently and has proven popular with customers. “We’re starting to get some real energy behind us with these,” he said.

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. “It’s so quintessential New York,” he said. “And a great way to highlight our two-year anniversary.”

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

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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