When area shoppers began flocking to Towson Town Center in September to check out the new kid on the block, they found a number of distinctive touches that set Nordstrom, the Seattle-based chain, off from other area retailers: the huge inventory of shoes, the foot massager in the ladies' lounge, the coffee bar, the high level of personal service.
And during Nordstrom's first season here, they may have noticed one other way Nordstrom distinguishes itself from its competition: no Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving.
The Towson store, which was practically void of all Christmas-related items on Wednesday, opens today fully decorated for the holidays and ready for the biggest shopping day of the year, thanks to about 75 store employees who stayed after closing Wednesday night and decorated until the early morning hours.
"No decorations before Thanksgiving -- it's a hallmark of Nordstrom," said Lesa A. Sroufe, an analyst with Ragen nTC MacKenzie in Seattle. "They're very high on tradition and they're very high on trying to keep a high quality. Tradition is very important to the Nordstrom family, and they'd rather keep to tradition as opposed to thinking how to pump sales." That, in turn, adds to Nordstrom's image of being a class act, she said.
Nordstrom says that while the policy may mean an all-out last-minute push by employees, it gives customers a chance to savor one holiday at a time.
"I think it makes a difference to a lot of customers who really value Thanksgiving," says Marty Wikstrom, Nordstrom vice president and general manager for the capital region.
"The holiday shopping season is such a major shopping season for all retailers, they tend to start the season earlier and earlier . . . but we place a tremendous value on each holiday. Thanksgiving is the time for celebrating blessings together."
Nordstrom, however, did put out all the Christmas merchandise that it featured in its holiday catalog, just to make sure that early shoppers could buy what they wanted, said store manager Tony Young.
And the store set up its gift mailing desk the week before Thanksgiving and opened a holiday gift shop.
"There are things that we do to service the customer. We just don't want to have the paraphernalia," Mrs. Young says.
In case customers fail to notice, signs near store entrances and elevators spell out the policy.
"At Nordstrom, Thanksgiving still comes before Christmas. We believe that Thanksgiving is a special time to reflect and give thanks, a holiday to savor for its own sake. That is why, even though we are brimming with holiday fashions and gift ideas, you will not find Christmas trim in our stores until after Thanksgiving."
Trudy Trefill, who works in the Nordstrom Christmas Gift shop, says her customers "love it. It's the old-fashioned way . . . It's not like everybody else. We're giving the customer time to enjoy Thanksgiving and then bring them into the holidays."
Service desk employee Anne Roesner says she's only heard positive comments from customers regarding the store's decorating policy.
Customers are "just a little sick of seeing [decorations] so early. It gets old. If there's a wait, it gives you something to look forward to, and when it goes up it's something special," she says.
"I don't believe in starting with [Christmas] decorations in October," says Tex Reiter, who visited Nordstrom from Gambrills with his fiancee, Pat Norquest. "But I think everybody is getting used to it. You sort of tune it out."
Dr. Erin Drew, browsing through a Nordstrom rack early last week, also approved.
"I think it's an important thing" to separate the holidays, she said. "A lot of stores are doing a big Christmas thing before we've even had Thanksgiving . . . it gets on my nerves when it seems like there's a big rush."
But for most retailers, who may spend several weeks getting their stores ready for the shopping season, decorating early may help get shoppers in the mood for some pre-holiday spending.
"We have to finish right before Thanksgiving, so it takes about two weeks before that," says Liz Holland, publicity director for Macy's in New York. She adds that the store hasn't received any complaints that she's aware of about decorating before Thanksgiving.
"I think everyone likes to see it. The stores look beautiful," she says.
Members of the Nordstrom display team acknowledge that preparing an entire store for the holidays in one night was different than their previous Christmas decorating jobs, as most retailers spend days or weeks trimming their stores. But they also say that the Nordstrom policy offers advantages not available at other large retailers.
Michael Ruddie, who works on props, says it'll be nice to decorate after store hours, instead of "standing on a ladder, hanging garland over people's heads."