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Putting down roots

After decades trying, upscale Nordstrom finally enters the Boston market this week

NATICK - Nordstrom fought more than 20 years to get into Massachusetts, and now the Seattle department store is ready to mark its territory with the first of four stores opening here this week.

Shoppers will get a taste of style and sophistication at the upscale chain, which offers perks including its first men's grooming studio, a 90-seat restaurant, an eyebrow bar, and a sunglasses boutique with 20 designer brands. The expansive shoe department features $870 Jimmy Choo black patent leather booties, 11-foot mirrors that give shoppers a full view as they strut potential purchases, and a sales force that can make almost any shoe fit with an assortment of pads and stretching devices.

For Nordstrom Inc., the Natick opening is a watershed event. Rival stores from Filene's to Macy's have boxed the Seattle chain out, making Boston the only major market, other than Manhattan, that it could not penetrate. Providence is the closest the brand got to Boston when it opened a store there in 1999.

Now, Nordstrom is making an aggressive entrance into four affluent suburbs here over the next four years - taking advantage of new construction and recent vacancies from Macy's store closures after it bought the Filene's chain. With more than 50,000 Nordstrom card holders in a 50-mile radius, Nordstrom is hoping to capitalize on the area's growing disposable income and demand for high fashion.

"We've waited a long time for this. There's a high bar and high expectation, and it's up to us to perform and execute," said Blake Nordstrom, the company's fourth-generation president.

Founded in 1901 as a Seattle shoe shop, Nordstrom has grown into a nationwide brand - Natick will be the company's 99th store - known for a high level of customer service, according to retail analysts. Customer service desks cash checks, sell stamps, make dinner reservations, and wrap gifts for free. Bra fitters sew breast prostheses for free into any bra or bathing suit. The merchant also has restaurants, cafes, and spa services at most locations.

The chain provides shoppers accessible luxury in between Macy's and high-end Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York, which opened its first Boston store last year. The Natick shop will offer some of the most exclusive designers, including men's Versace suits (and a $1,246 gray knee-length Versace top coat), women's designer boutiques for Oscar de La Renta and Yves Saint Laurent, and more casual lines, like "Not Your Daughter's Jeans," which for $118, promise to "flatten belly and lift your buttocks."

"This is huge for the Boston market. Nordstrom is a leading retailer in terms of both assortment and service," said Madison Riley, a retail analyst with consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates. "It's going to be a major shopping destination for folks with a lot of money to spend west of Boston."

Nordstrom's two-level, 144,000 square-foot store is opening to the public on Friday in the newly renamed Natick Collection (formerly the Natick Mall) on Friday as part of the shopping center's 550,000-square-foot expansion. The complex, about 20 miles 5 west of Boston, includes the region's first suburban Neiman Marcus and top luxury retailers including Gucci, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton.

The remodeling and expansion project is the largest to date for developer General Growth Properties, which aims to make Natick Collection an upscale shopping and dining destination in New England. When completed, the 60-acre property will house more than 1 million square feet of space, 7,000 parking and valet parking spaces, and 215 luxury condominiums.

"We are delighted that Massachusetts' first Nordstrom will be at Natick Collection," said John Bucksbaum, General Growth's chairman and chief executive officer. "Nordstrom's is synonymous with the finest designers, fashion and great customer service. It's the perfect anchor for our upscale addition at Natick."

Over the next several years, Nordstrom plans to build three more stores - in the Burlington Mall, Northshore Mall in Peabody, and South Shore Plaza in Braintree, staggering the openings with one every year. The chain won't disclose how much it is spending to build the stores. All three of these deals followed Macy's major divestiture of stores after it took over several regional department store chains, including Filene's. Over the past year, Macy's has struggled to retain customers who shopped at the department stores the company acquired and converted into the namesake brand. And Nordstrom's entrance into the Boston market will only stiffen competition in an already cramped retail space, according to analysts, and push merchants like Macy's to respond.

Nordstrom's Natick store will open at a time of economic uncertainty, with the housing sector still in a slump and a seesawing stock market. But executives of the company, which recently reported a better-than-expected same-store sales increase of 5.9 percent for the second quarter ended Aug. 4, said they are not concerned and are making a long-term investment in the Boston market. Nordstrom also plans to open another two shops in Michigan and Colorado in the fall.

The Natick store opening will be accompanied by ample festivities, including a $150-a-ticket gala event "devoted to all things fashionable"on Wednesday that includes a runway fashion show in the parking lot. On Friday, when the store opens to the public, Nordstrom will start the morning off with a cosmetics "tailgate" party from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. outside the store, offering complimentary cosmetic, skincare, and fragrance consultations.

"This has been such a long time coming," said Peter Nordstrom, the company's president of merchandising and brother to chain president Blake. "There's something special and different about this. It's not just another store opening."

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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SNEEK PEEK View photos of the state's first Nordstrom at boston.com/business.

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