Chronicling the Second Coming

It was the story of the year, if not the eon, and it broke last week. No, not President Clinton’s sort-of confession to sort-of messing around and the mounting calls to impeach him and/or Ken Starr. Nor the missile raids on terrorist camps in Sudan and Afghanistan, escalating a covert international war of bombs and nerves. We’re talking about a really big story.

Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle store moved across the street.

Whatever Monica Lewinsky did seemed like nothing after Seattle’s dailies went down on this story. Here’s how it unfolded:

Seattle Held Hostage, Day 1: Sunday, August 16. The Seattle Times’ Pacific magazine sets the stage with a rapturous cover story, “Downtown Alive: No Place to be Blasé!” Departing Pacific staffer Kimberley Marlowe writes, “When your eye catches that flash of blue water, hung there like a piece of fine silk, you’ll feel a peculiar, wonderful catch in your heart and know you’re in downtown Seattle.”

Marlowe notes that she once sold underwear at Frederick & Nelson, but doesn’t mention Nordstrom’s move to the old F&N store. And she doubtless didn’t intend this big wet farewell kiss to her favorite neighborhood as a promotional wrap. But the second punch comes six pages later: a one-page story, “Nordstrom Stretches Out: With Six Floors There’s Room to Move and Market,” followed by a gorgeously colored double-truck “Browser’s Guide to the New Nordstrom Store,” which looks more like an ad than the four-page ad folded inside it.

Monday, August 17. On the second day, the Nordy boosters rest. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose editors and writers perennially lament their pinched news hole, runs the latest of many lengthy packages on the Sahalee golf tournament, a 10-page “Commemorative Edition.” The Times devotes most of eight sports pages to the tournament’s closing.

Tuesday, August 18. Another day of rest.

Wednesday, August 19. The story breaks! The first of three eight-page, broadsheet “Celebrate Nordstrom Downtown” sections appears in the P-I and Times. It doesn’t carry any “Advertising” designation, just the paper’s name and a section “AA” designation (trumping the front section “A”). Each page features a full-page color photo of beaming Nordstrom employees or customers, with a fold-out picture map of store departments that’s not as nice as Pacific‘s.

Thursday, August 20. Another eight-page “Celebrate Nordstrom Downtown” section in both papers, this time featuring “three generations” of Nordstrom shoppers. The space-short P-I devotes nearly half its front page and a full inside news page to the overnight move, and most of two business pages (including the lead) to histories of Nordstrom and the retail core. And it tops Pacific with an eight-page color “special section”: “Doing Up Downtown.” Sample headlines: “NORDSTROM: Shiny New Flagship Invites Exploration.” “SHOPPERS’ PARADISE: Pacific Place Looking Up: Up-upscale, That Is.” “Upcoming ‘Amazing’ Era of Construction Could Make Seattle Truly Sleepless.” “A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE: Malls Just Don’t Have this Kind of Character.” Nor this kind of publicity.

The Times is delivered to homes in plastic Nordstrom bags. But its coverage is restrained next to the P-I‘s: It devotes a photo across the top of its front page and its main business feature to the move, plus the lead editorial, “Big Day for Nordstrom.” After saluting this favorite “homegrown business,” the Times editorialists offer “Congratulation, also, to Seattle civic leaders who took risks—and got criticized for it, yet who understood the importance of a vibrant downtown. They helped to nurture an urban revival that is the envy of cities across America.” This comes closest of any coverage we could wade through to mentioning the scandals and controversies—from reopening Pine Street to scamming a federal “urban blight” loan to the sweetheart Pacific Place Garage purchase—that have shadowed this bit of downtown renaissance.

Friday, August 21. Another eight-page “Celebrate Nordstrom Downtown,” showcasing beauty products. Otherwise, the wind-down. The missile raids chase Nordstrom off the P-I‘s front page. Its lead business page shows Nordstrom brass cavorting in their new shoe department over the headline, “Downtown Now the ‘Cool Place to Live.'” At the Times, “Nordstrom’s Flagship Comes In” anchors the front page.

Saturday, August 22. P-I, front page bottom: “Nordstrom Throws Doors Open to Breathless Throng.” Times: “Other Stores Hope to Cash in on Nordstrom Crowd.”

Sunday, August 23. A two-page Nordstrom ad spread follows four Bon pages.

Now that they’ve shown what resources and talent they can scramble for a really big project, the dailies shouldn’t lose the momentum. They should mark each anniversary of the Nordstrom move, and try to outdo themselves year after year.

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