Thursday, December 18, 2008
Shopping the escalator and a history lesson
Some one mentioned recently that they were going into Seattle for the day and it brought to mind something I always did with my pals around Christmas time. One night a year the stores in Downtown Seattle stay open until midnight. There was a fantastic store. Here are some actual facts about the store for the history buffs and then on with my story......
Frederick & Nelson Department Store (Fredericks as the locals called it) Frederick & Nelson was for many years Seattle's premier department store. In 1890, they began selling used furniture during the rebuilding of Seattle after the Great Fire of 1889. The business expanded to include home delivery of goods, a tea room, and ready-to-wear men's and women's fashions. The owners built a reputation for elegance and customer service.
In 1916, Donald Frederick astonished the Seattle business community by planning his six-story store at 5th Avenue and Pine Street, then outside the city's retail core. "Frederick's Folly," as detractors called it, proved to be an instant success when it opened its doors on September 3, 1918.The store featured unique amenities such as a candy factory, a children's hairdressing salon, a kindergarten, and a lounge for mothers with infants.
The mail order department shipped distinctive merchandise around the world. During World War II, the store embraced the war effort by becoming a center for the sales of war bonds and by opening a branch store at the Boeing Airplane Company's Plant No. 2. This allowed shift workers, many of whom were women, to shop. When the war ended, Fredericks helped feed the demand for consumer goods and it established a reputation for the best in fashion.
As people began moving to the suburbs, Fredericks opened its first major branch in the Bellevue Shopping Square in 1949. In 1951, the downtown store was expanded by three floors up and two floors down.
This video is so fun to watch. It was done in 1953 and the fashion, the cars, etc it so interesting to watch. It is 29 minutes long so make sure you have time to watch the whole thing as it is worth if. http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=4030718
The good times did not last for Fredericks. Shoppers began to move to discount retailers. Service to customers succumbed to volume sales. In 1982, another company bought Marshall Field and Fredericks was absorbed into a national chain. Losses mounted. Fredericks was sold off in 1986 to Seattle area investors. In 1989, developer David Sabey bought the Fredericks stores and sought to restore their reputation for elegance. In 1991, however, debts exceeded assets, and Fredericks filed for bankruptcy. On May 31, 1992, Frederick & Nelson went out of business.
The building at 5th Avenue and Pine Street was sold to Nordstrom (which was a shoe store only when I was a child) which remodeled and reopened it as that company’s flagship retail store in 1998.
We would meet on the 8th floor in the Tea Room for dinner and a gift exchange. The restaurant was beautiful. White linens on everything and beautiful views of the city lights out the windows, strolling Victorian costumed carolers, good food and the promise of a lot of shopping before nights end. It originally started out with just the core group of friends but over the years sisters, co-workers, new friends, daughters, were added and the numbers varied year by year. Often we would have prime rib for our wonderful dinner, Kathy would pull her annual joke, we would exchange gifts and head for the escalator.
Rule # 1; you couldn't venture into the store on each floor further than you could be seen from the escalator. Than many ladies trying to stay together was like trying to herd cats, hence the rule.
We would then go over to the Bon Marche and do the same. When it got close to store closing time or we just wore out we would head for the Olympic Hotel (old name) and go to the Ballroom there. We would sit on the couch and chair arrangements and watch the "old folks" (watch it Lady) dance. There is something special about couples that have obviously danced together for years. We would order from the mobile dessert cart and have coffee and something wonderfully sweet. It had an atrium type ceiling and outside wall and you had a marvelous view of the city lights as a back drop.
Just very recently it has been brought to my attention that many of us, including several age groups, from that area have memories of that old store that go back to our child hoods. The Frederick and Nelson Santa was legendary and a lot of us have pictures sitting his lap. They had live reindeer one year and always had the most beautiful store windows. The Christmas decorations in the store were really something to see. Unfortunately I have some pictures but no scanner so I have used some I found online.