When the Naples Daily News first reported earlier this month on the major closing of Nordstrom at Waterside Shops, the luxury giant provided little, not even confirming that our fair city was on its hit list.
The big league behemoth, with 378 sophisticated and lower-rung locations in North America, only indicated at the time shutting down 16 full-line department stores nationally for good by August 2020.
Also wasn’t really clear what truly entailed a “full-line department store” until my colleague Laura Layden explained that it’s a “full assortment of merchandise, as well as personalized services, from alterations to bra fitting.”
Bra fitting. Not going to get that at my Dollar Tree. Glad I’m a dude. You ladies put up with way too much, except, of course, my long-running disagreement with you on who has it worse when it comes to shaving. Your legs versus my ugly mug.
With public records obtained this past week related to the leading upscale retailer, In the Know has more details, which unfortunately seem to serve as an indicator of what’s to come in the market and the potentially painful impact for Collier and Lee counties.
For now, the prime-time merchant is continuing its 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. curbside pickup that began during the pandemic, with no plans to return to normalcy before locking the doors for good.
The new documents show the outfit envisions jettisoning 158 workers from stylish Waterside, 5489 Tamiami Trail N., with the first of the staff members being dismissed June 1.
More will disappear in the following weeks, with the last one targeted to turn out the lights of the opulent shop by about July 12, according to the report submitted to the state by Mary Porter, vice president of the operation’s human resources.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had an unanticipated impact on our business,” Porter said, also citing the repercussion of government’s handling of it including President Trump. “These circumstances have created unanticipated challenges in continuing to sell to and serve customers.”
In addition, the data seems to illustrate how the diehard’s accustomed reliance on brick-and-mortar may have played a role.
“Nearly 70% of our sales come from our stores,” Porter said. “We’ve had to change the way we work, reprioritize and make tough decisions for the future of our company and our employees. Because of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been forced to take a critical look at the physical footprint of our stores and assess how we can respond to the new realities of today’s business environment. To maximize our ability to continue serving customers well into the future, we made the decision to close this store.”
A few Naples residents are pushing letters and a petition drive to keep it here, but as articulated in conversations, emails and on Facebook, our percipient readers aren’t surprised by the padlocking plans.
“They were on their way out before COVID-19,” said Bonita Springs resident Scotty Napierkowski. “The crisis just put another nail in their coffin is all.”
Stretching roughly 80,000 square feet, the two-story anchor opened in slippery when wet Waterside in November 2008 as part of a chain with 1901 roots.
The posh place still had a little of that old-school grandeur from back in the day when my late lovely abuela would get me all gussied up and take us to delight in the 129,000-square feet former Florida treasure, Maas Brothers, in the Edison Mall before it got swallowed up by Burdines in 1991 and then Macy’s.
She’d get her hair done there, and we’d nibble on overpriced hoity-toity sandwiches with the crust removed, decorated toothpicks and pinkies up at Maas’ own classy cafe with other perfumy grandmas who’d fuss and wrongly predict that I would become a handsome man.
Yeah, may seem a bit of a pretentious experience to the younger set now, but loved it as a kid. Like going in our Sunday best after church to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the then-Fort Myers imagined embodiment of elegance.
But those kinds of traditions are rapidly evaporating, said Naples resident Donna Brauer.
“We are losing classy places where you can dress up and have a nice lunch while shopping, feel special and buy a nice lipstick or fragrance,” Brauer said. “My mom always took me shopping on Saturday. We had so much fun.”
Aside from the very heavy questions about the virus itself, we face a future that may not be as uncertain as we think as consumers.
We’ve already been moving into this virtual reality for quite awhile now during this digital age. Online purchasing. Online banking. Online food ordering.
“Internet shopping is killing specialty stores.” Brauer said. “We won’t ever be able to get personal service anymore.”
The current coronavirus climate is accelerating the transformation.
“Sad,” said Fort Myers resident Connie Dolan DeBuhr. “Traffic in department stores had been waning due to the internet and online ordering. However, the COVID-19 lockdown put the final nails in.”
We’ve known for a long time that the demise of conventional venues was coming in the garment world.
“Many department stores are in trouble,” said Tim Witherite, former battalion chief at the Naples Fire Department. “Most of them were not doing all that well before the pandemic hit.”
Our communities, with our demographics and strong buying power, have often averted these types of closings, but not this time around.
“Unfortunately, a very bad sign for our community,” said Southwest Florida attorney Shawn Seliger. “Any store beneath the level of Nordstrom is a step down.”
Ironically, the same corporation has one that fits the bill: the off-price Nordstrom Rack, which isn’t part of the announced closures, and continues to function at Mercato, 3.5 miles north of Waterside on U.S. 41.
What’s ahead is what may make it even more difficult for the company’s locally abandoned 158. The 42 managers and assistant managers. The 12 logistics and visual merchandise specialists. The seven tailors and fitters.
They’re among the early victims of more hometown job cuts to come as fewer organizations hire and unemployment rates go up.
At Waterside, owners The Forbes Company don’t have an announced replacement to fill its suddenly mammoth high-fashion void among its elite entourage of the likes of Gucci, Tiffany & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue.
“I have always been a loyal Nordies girl and have loved the people and store since it opened,” said Naples real estate advisor Mimy von Schreiner. “It’s a loss for sure, mostly for all the lovely folks who worked there for so many years.”
And then she had this message to share for the devoted professionals:
“Thanks to all of you wonderful employees over the years like Laura Geremia Pangallo and Carl Dearborn. You are what made it special.”
Wow. Well said.
From backyard to big business
Billy Martinez started his Naples-based venture in his backyard just before Y2K.
Now more than 20 years later, he’s selling The Equipment Source, a tool and equipment rental company for consumers and contractors, 3727 Prospect Ave., to an Arizona enterprise.
Eberhart Capital of Scottsdale specializes in four main areas: oil and gas, construction, trucking and industrial. Its newest pickup, coming in the middle of a pandemic, is the exclusive provider for France-based Manitou and Mustang by Manitou equipment in Collier and Lee counties.
“This acquisition gives us another incredible team focused on helping America rebuild,” said Dan K. Eberhart, managing director.
Temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Equipment Source developed a contactless drive-up that allows customers to order and pay for items in advance and call in when they arrive for pickup. The store has re-opened, but the service is still available.
Rentals vary from small tools to large excavators and loaders, from floor grinders to forklifts and boom lifts. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and Steve Acquafresca is now general manager, taking over where Martinez left off.
Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.
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