Off-Price Nordstrom Rack Opens To A Crowd, But Will It Last?

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  • Stephanie Jones of Hartford is one of the first customers to race into Nordstrom Rack at West Farms Shopping Center on Thursday morning. More than 1000 people waited in line for the grand opening. Nordstrom Rack is a clearance store for its flagship store Nordstrom, Inc.
Stephanie Jones of Hartford is one of the first customers to race into Nordstrom… (Patrick Raycraft, The Hartford…)
April 26, 2012|By JANICE PODSADA,, The Hartford Courant

When Nordstrom announced last August that it would open a Nordstrom Rack in Farmington, many Hartford-area consumers said they were not familiar with the chain. While some had heard of "The Rack," few had actually shopped at the Seattle-based retailer's off-price store.

The state's first Nordstrom Rack opened Thursday to crowds and contests — nearly 1,000 people waited in line for the 7 a.m. opening. They were greeted by a DJ spinning the hits, breakfast treats and the lure of a $2,000, 90-second shopping spree.

But in the midst of the fanfare some consumers question whether The Rack can find an enduring niche here.

Through the years, Hartford-area shoppers have seen a parade of off-price apparel and accessories retailers such as Filene's Basement, Loehmann's and others open and close. A combined Syms/Filene's Basement store opened on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington in April 2010 and closed in late 2011, after the retailer filed for bankruptcy.

In 1998, Loehmann's, which offers upscale clothing at discounts, closed its Farmington outlet after a two-decade run.

"They have a very broad-based appeal," said retail analyst Jeff Green of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix. "People who frequent discount stores like Target shop there. Even traditional Nordstrom shoppers will go to the Rack."

Green's upbeat view is shared.

"The concept has been around for decades. Nordstrom Racks have been very successful all over the country," said Robert Spector, Seattle-based author of "The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence."

"What you're getting there is merchandise that was originally bought for Nordstrom stores and merchandise from brands that have a special deal with the Rack," Spector said. "It's really good merchandise; it's not like they're selling schlock."

"If you look at their expansions, they aren't opening as many full-line stores; their expansion is in the Racks. In fact, 15 to 20 percent of the retailer's sales are from the Rack," Spector said.

In fiscal 2011, Nordstrom Inc. had $10.5 billion in sales, up 13 percent over the previous year.

Nordstrom Rack offers men's and women's clothing and merchandise from Nordstrom stores at up to 60 percent off original prices, along with brand-name apparel, accessories and shoes offered specially for Nordstrom Rack at 30 percent to 70 percent off, said Kendall Ault, a Nordstrom spokeswoman.

"Of the top 50 brands in our full-line stores, we offer 49 of them at Nordstrom Rack," Ault said.

If the cross-section of shoppers who converged on the store Thursday was any indication of the Rack's appeal, the future looks bright.

Twentysomethings, young mothers, men searching for suits and women of all ages filled the new 35,000-square-foot store Thursday. Many shoppers commented on the convenience of the mobile checkout centers, which minimized waiting times.

Jordan Revis, 21, of Southington, said he rarely shops at Nordstrom: "It's too expensive. But this place is different. They were great. I will definitely come back," said Revis who visited the store Thursday afternoon in search of men's clothing, and called his mother to recommend the store to her.

"When the 20-year-olds become 25 or 30, they're going to go to the full-line Nordstrom," Spector said.

The Rack, which occupies the retail space that formerly housed a Linens 'N Things store, now anchors the West Farm Shopping Mall, a quarter-mile south of Westfarms mall, where Nordstrom has a full-line department store.

The company's strategy of putting the outlet near a full-line store is no mistake, said Green, the analyst in Phoenix.

"They like to put their stores together — one is full-price, the other is an alternative off-price store for those who can't or don't want to pay full price," Green said. "Nordstrom sees the Rack as an aspirational step for people who can't afford Nordstrom prices but like Nordstrom merchandise."

Thursday afternoon was Kim Gelman's first visit to a Nordstrom Rack. "My friend told me about it," said Gelman, 50, of Hamden, who was weighed down with two full shopping bags. "The prices are good. I can see people coming from all over the state to shop here."

Pam Teitelman of Woodbridge, who accompanied Gelman, was the friend who had told her about Nordstrom Rack. Teitelman said she frequently shops at the Rack in New York City, but with the opening of the Farmington store, she said she plans to curtail her trips to the Manhattan Rack.

"This new store surpassed my expectations. There are lots of salespeople, no waiting. This is not a flash-in-the-pan store," said Teitelman, who had snagged three pairs of shoes. "I bought the same pair at another store last week and they were $50 more," she said, triumphantly.

CT Now online producer Sara Grant contributed to this report.

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