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Originally published September 13, 2012 at 10:40 AM | Page modified September 13, 2012 at 7:38 PM

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Nordstrom confirms its move into Canada

The retailer may eventually open up to nine full-line stores north of the border.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Nordstrom confirmed Thursday it will open four full-line department stores in Canada, its first move outside the United States.

Stores in Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver will begin opening in autumn 2014, a pace that President Blake Nordstrom said is "actually really fast. Each store is being remodeled, so there's a lot of work to do."

He said the Canadian market might eventually support six to nine full-line Nordstrom locations.

The news has been anticipated in Canada for years, where one consultant said Nordstrom is expected to be "a formidable foe."

The Seattle-based department-store chain, which has 234 stores in 31 states, will renovate former Sears stores at Chinook Centre in Calgary (opening fall 2014), Rideau Centre in Ottawa (opening spring 2015) and Pacific Centre in Vancouver (also spring 2015). A new store will be built at Sherway Gardens in Toronto to open in fall 2016.

Its developer partner for the new stores is Cadillac Fairview of Canada.

Blake Nordstrom said the chain has more than 15,000 credit-card holders in Canada who shop online, by phone and in person when they travel across the border. Although it has no international stores yet, Nordstrom sells to customers online in 44 foreign countries.

The company has not yet determined its product mix in Canada, he said.

The move will be led by Karen McKibbin, a longtime Nordstrom executive who most recently served as vice president and regional manager of Northern California and Hawaii.

She will "work with the merchandising team to listen to customers and ensure we have the right offering," Nordstrom said.

Retailers are flocking to Canada in large part because of its stronger economy.

J.Crew began opening stores there last year. Target plans to open at least 125 stores in Canada beginning next spring.

And Bloomingdale's is reported to be in talks about opening in Canada.

They arrive after Canada's 15-year purge of some of its homegrown department stores that went out of business or were sold, including the iconic Eaton's and a revered West Coast chain called Woodward's.

"A lack of intense competition allowed us to get away with practices that might not have been best in class," said David Ian Gray, a retail consultant based in Vancouver.

Even now, Nordstrom's move north has department stores and boutique retailers on their toes.

"In Canada, this is huge news. Retailers here have been trying to boost their game well in advance of this [announcement]," Gray said.

Nordstrom's most direct competition there will be Holt Renfrew, also known as Holt's, which went through a reinvention, "but they're not Nordstrom, and they're going to have to do a lot better," he said.

Holt's will probably have an edge on Nordstrom at first when it comes to merchandising, but its service is not up to Nordstrom standards, he said.

Hudson's Bay Co., now known as the Bay, also will compete -- possibly with high-end U.S. brand Bloomingdale's, which is said to be considering opening inside Bay stores in Canada.

Fashion boutiques and beauty stores also are on alert.

"Nordstrom will be formidable foe," Gray said. "It will also have a huge impact on specialty retail."

At the same time, Nordstrom is bound to experience a learning curve in Canada, where Gray said shoppers do not like being "sold to."

"We don't like to be descended upon. We don't see that as someone offering service," he said.

Mark Startup, a spokesman for the Retail Council of Canada, said U.S. developers, landlords and retailers consider the Canadian market "understored."

"They're also seeing an economy that has succeeded since 2008, whereas many economies have either gone backwards or are struggling to maintain an even result," Startup said.

Although Canadian retailers might not agree, "many will be pleased U.S. brands are coming to Canada if it's incentive for Canadian consumers to stay home," he said.

Cross-border shopping has ramped up as the Canadian dollar strengthens, creating a drain on retailers north of the border.

Blake Nordstrom said stemming that flow southward would "be a compliment, or a test of how well we do. ... We'll certainly strive to give it our best effort with these stores."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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