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Inside the Downtown San Francisco Nordstrom on Its Last Day

Jun 12, 2023

When the Nordstrom at Westfield San Francisco Centre mall opened in the fall of 1988, thousands lined up to see the department store's spiral escalators and retractable skylight, the champagne and caviar bar, the five-star spa and the live pianist.

On Sunday, just a few dozen shoppers trickled in from Market Street at noon as the store opened its doors for the last time.

Longtime San Francisco resident Dina Richardson said she had promised a store employee that she would show up "to buy something to remember the store by," she said. "I told her I felt like crying."

She was carrying her final purchase: a $20 bottle of Kiehl's lotion.

Richardson said she still had fond memories of coming to the neighborhood to shop with her mother at The Emporium, a beloved department store that closed its doors in 1996 after serving the city for a century.

"This has always been a shopping area, and to see a beautiful store close, even though I don't come here that often—it's just sad," Richardson said.

The Seattle-based retailer announced back in May that it would close the Downtown Nordstrom along with a nearby Nordstrom Rack, which shut its doors last month. The closure of the last San Francisco store marks the end of amenities such as the store's vaunted customer-service tradition as well as Downtown's best bathroom.

When it opened 35 years ago, the Westfield mall was noted for its unique architectural features, as well as its central Downtown location and collection of high-end retailers, with Nordstrom as its anchor. The 336,000 square-foot store was heralded as a new attraction that would hopefully revive a section of Market Street that even then, was struggling with many of the same urban realities that plague local retailers today.

Desi Tafoya, another city resident who was shopping at Nordstrom on its final day, noted that he'd just seen an unhoused person dragging a comforter outside the Bloomingdale's next door. "There is an issue with homelessness, drug addiction and things like that," he said. "That's the biggest concern, trying to figure out that part of it in order for people to feel safe coming out and shopping."

His friend, James Siegel, noted that the neighborhood was in better shape just six or seven years ago, when stores were "just bustling." While the area around Market Street has long been a center for drugs and panhandlers, the rise of remote work since the pandemic decimated foot traffic in San Francisco’s downtown core. That, combined with a rise in theft and other petty crimes, has killed stores in the area.

"It's changed so quickly," said Siegel.

Law enforcement dispatch data shows police regularly patrolled the San Francisco Centre mall. Officers logged almost 560 “passing calls”—when officers patrol an area to demonstrate a police presence—at the shopping center during the yearlong period ending May 1, 2023.

San Francisco’s emergency dispatchers received reports of hundreds of potential crimes at the mall during the same period. The data shows reports of 118 petty theft incidents, 64 fights, 41 grand thefts and 24 burglaries.

Nonetheless, Nordstrom shoppers waxed nostalgic about the days when people visited department stores packed with clothing, accessories and cosmetics.

Nordstrom in its heyday had a mirrored room where customers could request custom blends of cosmetics and fragrances. Shoppers could take a break and have a martini or french fries at the store's English-style pub, decorated with furnishings imported all the way from England. The champagne and caviar bar sold more than 100 selections of bubbly, some at $35 a glass.

Even now, some remain loyal to the spirit of brick-and-mortar retail.

"I like coming to the store and trying stuff on," said a shopper who gave only his first name, Jacob. The San Francisco resident said he still paid routine monthly visits to the San Francisco Centre to visit a clothing store, shop for Christmas gifts or enjoy a burger from Shake Shack.

George Kelly can be reached at [email protected]

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