Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nordstrom Rack opening a big hit in Houston

I knew the days were drawing near on the grand opening of the 70th Nordstrom Rack store, the first such store in Houston. Several months earlier, I was initially happy that the outlet store of the Seattle-based retailer would come to Houston. I wouldn't have to travel to the Dallas-Fort Worth area location (in Hurst) that had since closed a few years ago.

A friend reminded me the previous day that the grand opening was happening on the 25th, and that a drawing for a $2,000 shopping spree would be held before the store opening, and that getting there early would ensure seeing the full selection of items in the store.

For me, as Mars Blackmon of Spike Lee's Nike ad campaign fame might say: "It's gotta be the shoes." That was my sole mission. I was determined to peruse the shoes.

So, I set out to beat morning traffic and got on the road at 4:55 a.m., whizzed down Interstate 10 east to the Galleria area in about a half hour, parked the car and waited among three others parked in the lot, staying warm with temperatures below 40 degrees outside.

The first person who arrived, Tamara Kelly, told store organizers she arrived at 4:30 a.m. At about 6 a.m., she took a seat on a bench near the entrance, where ropes were being set up for the line to form. I got out of my car after reading an article in GQ be next in line, sitting next to her on the bench.

Tamara stands all of 5-foot-1 with a world of gumption to brave the cold three hours before the store is scheduled to open. I put on my jacket and decide that I'm going to withstand the cold before sunrise, too.

In anticipating a line of customers willing to wait hours in advance, store organizers rolled out food and beverages courtesy of Jason's Deli, to feed the formation of huddled masses yearning for free shopping spree. Smart move. Not long after Tamara and I sit on the bench and talk "shop," several other women get in line. I give up my seat, get some food and return to my place in line. (No. 2, yo!)

By 7 a.m., forms are available to fill out for the $2,000 shopping spree. The parking lot begins to fill with more cars, more people emerge to enter the drawing, get food and get in line, all contemplating what they would in gathering as many items as possible for 90 seconds inside the store.

To be sure, being the first in line has its perks. Tamara got to talk to a radio host from KHMX-FM 96.5 "The Mix," an on-camera interview and a $100 gift card from the president of the Nordstrom Rack chain, not to mention some schwag from the The Mix tent located on the end of the storefront opposite from the customer line.

On Tamara's initiative, she shared the spotlight with me as "the first guy." Real nice of her. So I got an interview in front of the camera and some schwag (no gift card, though, but that's OK). The thought surely counted. Tamara's mother, niece and other loved ones later joined her at the front of the line.

At 8:45 a.m., a name was drawn for the $2,000 shopping spree ... it wasn't me. A woman who was in line, after about 75 people, came forward as the chosen one.

After much fanfare and collective woo-hoos as the woman entered the store and got as many pairs of size 5 1/2 shoes as possible, the moment arrived. At 9 a.m., the doors open to a rousing ovation by staff and customers alike. I follow Tamara inside and make a bee line for men's shoes, located in the back of the store.

I had at least three minutes alone in the aisles that ranged from size 8 1/2 to 10. I found one pair of Allen-Edmonds that were a narrow width, a black calfskin cap toe, half price (reg. $305). This pair fit very comfortably. So I calmly walk toward checkout, with the store now full of customers and a line of others waiting to come inside, pay for my shoes, and exit.

I was stunned to see the line extend to the Grand Luxe Cafe, a restaurant that is closest to Westheimer Road, which is about 15 storefronts away from Nordstrom Rack, or several hundred yards from the front doors of the store.

What an experience. I did not look back as I got in my car and drove to the next errand for the day. But what a first day for Nordstrom Rack in Houston. The support was tremendous. I'll probably check in around the next major sale, which is usually in May/June (Memorial Day and Father's Day).

As for the store itself, there's no shortage of bargain items. It may be best to let the dust settle after the initial hoopla. Additional discounts usually come about during holidays. So if you missed the first day, don't fret. You at least avoided long lines to get in.

For those who braved the cold, I hope it was worth it. I'm just glad I got my shoes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Outlet deal of the year

I realize it's only the second month of 2010, but I doubt that a deal like this will happen again for a good while to come. Wanna hear it? Here it goes:

On a recent drive to the factory outlet center in San Marcos, Texas, I go through my usual walk past the storefronts of the entire center. (Takes about two hours. Anyway ...) The last time I went to San Marcos, I found a pair of Edward Green shoes at the Saks outlet for 70 percent off.

This time, I go the Polo outlet and I see many markdowns in menswear. About 10 minutes into browsing, I see a brown pinstripe, 100 percent linen suit that retailed for $600. I figure the suit was 75 percent off, which would make it $150.

I get the sales associate to do a price check. He says it's $37.49.

Are you kiddin' me?

Another sales associate rings it up at checkout.

$37.49. $40.58 after tax.

I couldn't believe it. Though something was wrong with the suit. So we all inspect it. Yep, first quality.

Gladly paid for it and didn't look back. Didn't buy anything else while at the San Marcos outlets. This deal that I got was too good. About 95 percent off? Whoa. Cool.

All that's left is to go to the tailor, which will cost more than the suit.

That's OK. I'll look like a million bucks after the suit is cut to fit me. That's quite a profit.

I'll take it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Best in U.S.-made: Alden shoes

In a recent blog entry, I rated Alden shoes No. 4 in my top five American shoemakers, largely on the basis of availability. That does not diminish this shoemaker's commitment to quality, which has been established since 1884.

Chances are I'll have to order Aldens in a narrower width than what is readily available in select menswear stores. I did happen to pick up a C width (Aberdeen last) at Houston Shoe Hospital on Westheimer & Chimney Rock, the only one in my size.

Since I'm on my feet a lot while working, I usually gravitate toward rubber-soled shoes over those with leather soles, though leather soles are more breathable. I was in an old-school mood, so I got this pair of Aldens, a calfskin Norwegian blucher that happened to be on sale. Turns out these shoes are quite comfortable during a walk through a mall.

Before purchasing my shoes, I had considered Alden's All-Weather Walker, which is on a Barrie last. I wasn't totally comfortable with the fit, which had discouraged my interest in this brand.

Now that I'm "soled" on the Aberdeen last (which is also the same last used for the shell cordovan tassel loafers that Alden makes for Brooks Brothers), my confidence is restored. I have seen other men wear Aldens, admired their durability.

Now it's my turn.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

StylePointer rates English shoemakers

Shoes made in England have set a high standard in terms of craftsmanship and durability. Put simply, they wear like iron. A visit to Northampton is on my bucket list of things to do in my lifetime.

I have visited London's Jermyn Street and Savile Row several times over the last few years, and there are so many options from which to choose. A pair of handmade shoes is the ultimate luxury. However, one need not pay 2,000 pounds (about $3,140 as of this entry) to acquire this level of comfort.

Church's of England shoes are pretty popular in the U.S. I especially like their wingtip spectators. One of my contemporaries, Ryan Chua, who recently started his own bespoke tailoring business while working at the Polo store in the Houston Galleria, is a big Church's fan.

Charles Tyrwhitt makes models that regularly retail for up to $650, but have been selling for half price for quite a while these days. Tyrwhitt's shoes are made in Northampton and are quality items. My favorite is the Brown Calf Winchester Co-Respondent shoe, a cap-toe spectator shoe that offers a stylish retro look. The classic brogues in black and brown are available, sharing the denominator of being well made.

Edward Green is another heavy hitter, with bespoke as well as ready-to-wear lines. I recently picked up a pair called the Holborn in Rosewood Country Calf on a 606 last. These shoes retail for nearly $1,200, but I got a good deal on them as they found their way to an outlet store in San Marcos, TX. To possess the elegance of Edward Green shoes that fit like a glove is a lucky thing indeed.

Crockett & Jones is another esteemed company that has made shoes for Polo Ralph Lauren. I still am searching for the C&J last that fits me best, but without question C&J shoes represent quality.

On the high (bespoke) end, look into John Lobb, George Cleverly, W.S. Foster & Son. Each shoemaker has a tradition few others can match.

I hate to do a top five on these shoemakers when I know there are so many English shoemakers. I'll give it a shot, though (debate likely to follow ...):

1. John Lobb
2. George Cleverley
3. W.S. Foster & Son
4. Edward Green
5. Crockett & Jones

Other shoes that deserve mention: New & Lingwood, Grenson, Tricker's, Barker, Sanders.