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Originally published Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 9:31 AM

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Nordstrom Rack to move its downtown Seattle store to Westlake Center

Nordstrom Rack's large footprint is likely to uproot some tenants at Westlake Mall, including about 1,000 square feet now occupied by women's clothier Talbots.

Seattle Times business reporter

Starting in spring 2012, Nordstrom Rack will redirect bargain hunters a few blocks eastward along Pine Street to Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, where it'll take a huge chunk of space underground.

For Westlake Center, Nordstrom Rack will become the largest retail tenant, possibly re-branding the hard-to-define mall into a destination for cost-conscious consumers.

The new Rack will offer nearly a third more space to sell merchandise than its current, four-level location at Second Avenue and Pine, said Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White.

The move, which was announced Tuesday, will allow local Rack shoppers to take advantage of new conveniences, such as less-crowded checkout areas and grab-and-go shoe departments, White said.

Brette Jackson, 20, of Federal Way, said she looks forward to not walking up and down several flights of stairs at the new Rack. She left downtown's Broadacres building empty-handed Tuesday after browsing handbags near the Rack's entrance.

"A lot of times, we just look at the handbags because we don't want to take the time to go up and down the stairs," she said, accompanied by her friend Haley McUrton, 21, also of Federal Way.

The move puts the Rack across Fifth Avenue from Nordstrom's downtown flagship, a sign the Seattle-based retailer believes its full-price and off-price stores can help each other by being close together.

"Typically, Rack locations that are across the street from our full-line stores do quite well," White said. "Many of our customers like to shop both stores. If they can't find what they want, they can check out the Rack, or vice versa."

The new, 42,500-square-foot Rack will have a street-level entrance at Fifth and Pine, as well as an underground entrance off the Transit Tunnel corridor at Westlake Station. An escalator will connect the two floors.

Jim Graham, a spokesman at General Growth Properties, which owns Westlake Center, said in a statement that Nordstrom Rack "will be a powerful enhancement to our merchandise mix."

The Rack's large footprint is likely to uproot some tenants at the mall, but Graham would not give details. White noted that the Rack will take about 1,000 square feet now occupied by women's clothier Talbots. The mall, with 106,000 square feet of leasable retail space, has five vacancies in the lower level and two on the street level.

"We are working on numerous alternatives with the retailers that currently occupy space where the Nordstrom Rack is planned to go and, yes, a portion of the Rack space is part of — but not all — of the space occupied by Talbots," Graham said in an e-mail. "Beyond that, we are not prepared at this time to discuss the specifics concerning the Rack's location at Westlake."

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Charles Staadecker, a Seattle real-estate broker focused on the retail sector, said the Rack will be a big boost to Westlake's pedestrian traffic flow. He recalled that Westlake was "pretty high end" when it opened in the late 1980s, then changed after Pacific Place opened in the late '90s.

"Pacific Place decided to aim for the higher luxury category, and Westlake had to reposition its tenants to ensure they remained viable," Staadecker said, adding that the Rack could give Westlake an edge with cost-conscious shoppers. "It's very good quality at lower price points, which in these economic times is a good strategy."

Nordstrom's off-price Rack division has been a bright spot for the company as U.S. consumers curtail nonessential purchases amid high unemployment and a shaky stock market.

Nordstrom recently entered New York City with a Rack store that also is mostly underground. It operates 114 full-line clothing stores and 76 Racks.

The first Rack store began in the basement of Nordstrom's downtown flagship in the early 1970s, then moved in 1987 to the Broadacres building. Its lease there expires in spring 2012.

"We're bound to disappoint some people who love the Broadacres building," White said. "But we hope we'll be able to entice them to the new store with a better layout and more merchandise."

The Broadacres building was part of a downtown real-estate portfolio that the Alhadeff family sold in 2007 to Principal Financial Group of Des Moines, Iowa.

John Speirs, senior vice president with KG Investment Management, which oversees the Broadacres building for Principal Financial, said other discount clothing-store chains have expressed interest in taking the Rack's place.

"Nordstrom Rack was very, very successful in that location," Speirs said. "They're moving because they think they can be even more successful at Westlake Center, where they'll be on one level. We don't think we'll have too hard a time finding someone to come in and backfill that location."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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