Sunday, May 14, 2000

Why shop Nordstrom instead of Meijer?




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        I've always regretted that Meijer didn't have a tuxedoed piano player in its sneaker aisle. A little Mozart with my Chuck Taylors would be fabulous.

        Now that Nordstrom is coming to Deerfield Township, I think Meijer should get to work on that. And if a Meijer “associate” could begin to keep track of the filters I need for my automobiles, that would be good, too. Every time I need an oil filter for the Rambler, I have to thumb through a guide the size of the Mexico City phone book to find the right one. It's a hassle.

        We're getting a Nordstrom in the suburbs. We're likely getting another downtown, at a cost of $50 million in “incentives.” Apparently, this is a very big deal.

        This is no knock on Nordstrom. It's a lovely place. What Nordstrom does must work, because every town seems to want one.

        But it doesn't work for me. I am low-brow. I've had the same pair of loafers since Reagan was president. They're so old, my feet call them Sir. I've had the same two suits for a decade, a tan and a dark blue. I call the tan suit Weddings. The blue one is Funerals. Places like Nordstrom make me nervous.

        They say part of what distinguishes Nordstrom is its “attentive” sales staff. I hate attentive. When I go into a store, I want to be left alone. The last thing I need is someone swooping and hovering, dropping Can-I-Help-Yous on me. If I went into Nordstrom, I'd feel like an escaped convict.

        Can you help me? No. I'm a man. If I need help, I'll ask.

        Then there are “specialty stores.” I won't go into a specialty store if I can tell from the outside I'd be the only customer. The swoop-and-hover factor is too great. I go to expensive specialty stores, the ones with the $5,000 chairs that give you a backrub and keep your beer cold, and wonder: Who buys this stuff?

        How does a place that sells, say, the world's best can opener for $49.95 stay in business? You know these stores. You go in. You look around. You remark at how interesting everything is. Hey, look at that suit of armor. And you leave.

        Nordstrom is not a specialty store. But it caters to specialty people. No one goes there looking for Fruit of the Loom. So when I see the city begging for one, I wonder whose needs it serves. Six blocks away, in Over-the-Rhine, I bet they'd love, you know, a decent supermarket.

        In a scientific poll of my friends and neighbors, I asked them if they would go downtown to shop at Nordstrom. The answer was pretty much, “You've got to be kidding.”

        My friend Penny is the barmaid at the Sleepy Hollow Inn in Loveland. I go to the Hollow when I need cheap beer and priceless common sense. The Hollow has Bobby Darin on the juke and Christmas lights all year. Nordstrom doesn't.

        Penny has a suggestion for those cheering a Nordstrom downtown, who feel that $50 million in incentives for a department store with a piano player is a heck of an investment:

        “Fifty million?” she says. “Tell 'em I'll play the piano for 50 bucks.”

        I love Penny. I'd marry her. If I weren't already married. I'd wear the tan suit. @tag: Paul Daugherty is an Enquirer sports columnist. Look for his lifestyle column in People on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

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