A Mirackulous Shopping Experience

It’s not easy and it’s not convenient, but I love shopping at Nordstrom Rack stores.

The location, merchandise, and layout of the store make shopping there a challenge but that’s part of the fun; it brings out the warrior spirit in me. Like last week, when my daughters and I left the store with a blue bag stuffed with four hoodies, three pairs of jeans, two t-shirts, and one dress for them and a jacket for me for a total of $225, I felt downright victorious. I came, I shopped, I conquered.

To understand why I feel this way, I have to explain what the Nordstrom Rack shopping experience is like for us. To start with, every Nordstrom Rack store is at least an hour drive away from where we live so a shopping outing there is not just a casual undertaking. If I’m going to spend that kind of time and money in gas to get there, you can be certain I’m not going to just breeze through the store, decide there’s nothing that appeals to me and leave. It’s a “take no prisoners” ““ but definitely a cute top or two ““ kind of attitude.

That brings me to the actual shopping: a Nordstrom Rack store has a lot more in common with Wal-Mart than it does with Nordstrom. Stepping into the store; all you see are jam-packed racks of clothing spreading out in front of you as far as the eye can see. There are no displays, mannequins, or partitions to break up the space.

The merchandise is crammed so tightly onto the racks that you almost need a pry bar to separate the hangers to see the front of a shirt. And because the racks themselves are spaced so tightly together, hangers start hooking onto the shopping cart as you try to pass between them which means a fair amount of clothing gets pulled to the floor making the whole place look like an unmade bed.

Like Ross stores, Nordstrom Rack doesn’t stock a range of sizes in a particular item. Almost every shirt or pair of pants is one-of-a-kind haphazardly grouped according to size. That’s why it takes so long to shop there; you can’t look at a group of shirts and then move on, to really shop there means looking through hundreds of pieces one at a time.

From what I’ve described, you’re probably thinking that the shopping at a Nordstrom Rack store has more in common with the torture device than clothing. So why do I keep going back?

Shopping at there has become a mother-daughter bonding experience for me and my daughters. There is no way I would drive to San Leandro or South San Francisco alone just to bargain shop, but when it’s the three of us sharing the experience, it’s a great outing. It started when Valerie and I happened upon our first Rack store in Los Angeles when we were there for one of her gymnastics meets. Once we got over our intimidation at the chaos and volume of merchandise stuffed into the store, we rolled up our sleeves, spent the next three hours plowing through shoes, tops, and jeans and found some great stuff. Though subsequent shopping trips to other Rack stores ““ we’ve now been to six ““ have not always been as productive, we’ve always enjoyed the time together and the sense of a mission accomplished.

Although pawing through the hundreds of one-of-a-kind pieces means that shopping there is a slow process, it also means that the items that we come home with are unique. I told Jennifer that I guarantee that she’ll be the only one at her sixth grade promotion wearing the dress we bought at the Nordstrom Rack in Colma last week. That’s certainly not a promise I could have made if we had bought her a dress at Kohl’s. And Valerie is always on the lookout for clothes with unusual prints and colors that have an artistic flair. On our last visit, she found some shoes that are covered in gold sequins and turquoise jewels that we have dubbed her “Bollywood sneakers.”

When we go to a Nordstrom Rack we have the attitude that somewhere in the store is buried treasure and that we’re not leaving until we find it. And the surprising thing is that we have always been successful. However, we’ve found that we have to be careful at about the two hour point into our shopping; low blood sugar starts impairing our judgment and we start considering buying really bizarre items just because they had once been sold in a regular Nordstrom store. That’s when I can count on Valerie for the truth that a lime green jacket probably isn’t that useful an addition to my wardrobe.

Another reason I like shopping there is because the shoppers themselves cut across all cultural and economic lines. I’m sure the locations of the stores have a lot to do with it, but I’ve heard more different languages spoken in a Nordstrom Rack store than anywhere else. Whether it’s a polished business woman or a Spanish-speaking mother with a bunch of kids, everybody is there looking for better quality merchandise at great price.

Our family is starting to think about where we should go for summer vacation. I’ve heard of families planning their trips around visits to all the major league ballparks ““ except in our case it may be Nordstrom Rack stores. It’s a good thing Steve is happy to drink coffee and draw in his sketchbook while the women in his family shop because we have 43 more stores to tour.

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