"We had deals that kept falling apart," said Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Inc. "Before General Growth Properties [Ala Moana's owner] bought the mall, we talked with the previous owner, but Liberty House [a local retailer] blocked us. Then we signed a lease a few blocks away at the Victoria Ward Center. GGP bought that mall and canceled the lease. We have never had a store take this long to open."
Nordstrom declined to discuss sales projections, but said, "Ala Moana has one of the highest sales per square foot of any mall in the country. It's a very name-brand driven market. Part of that is Japanese tourism, which has a big impact on the mall."
Nordstrom is no stranger to Hawaii. The retailer has had a presence on the island for many years, operating leased shoe departments in 10 Liberty House stores from 1966 to 1997. When the agreement with Liberty House ended, Nordstrom opened a freestanding shoe store at Ala Moana. A Nordstrom Rack unit bowed at Ward Center in 2000.
"We parted ways with Liberty House when we expressed an interest in having a full-line store," Nordstrom said. "The main reason we opened a [freestanding] shoe store was because we knew we wanted to have a full-line store. We had great managers and great salespeople [in the Liberty House departments], and we wanted to keep as many as we could."
In spite of the state's low 2.5 percent unemployment rate, Nordstrom said the company received 2,400 job applications for the store.
The Seattle-based Nordstrom took pains to design a store in sync with the surroundings. The contemporary-style building was inspired by Hawaiian architecture, with backlit windows that create an Asian lantern effect. Inside, columns wrapped in white coral with fossilized seashells reference the ocean. Fine art by local artists such as Don Ed Hardy, Scottie Flamm, Bruce Behnke, Curt Ginther, Carl Pao and Franco Salmoiraghi is on display.