Frederick & Nelson

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Frederick & Nelson
Industry Retail/Department store
Fate Closed (bankrupt)
Founded 1891
Defunct 1992
Headquarters Seattle, Washington
United States
Products Frango
Parent Marshall Field & Company (1929 - 1986)

Frederick & Nelson was a department store chain in the northwestern United States, based in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1891 as a furniture store, it later expanded to sell other types of merchandise. The company was acquired by Marshall Field & Company in 1929. By 1980, the Frederick & Nelson chain had expanded to 10 stores, in two states (Washington and Oregon), but the company went out of business in 1992. Its former Seattle flagship store building is now occupied by the flagship Nordstrom store.

History[edit]

Frederick & Nelson's flagship store in Seattle, in operation 1918–1992

Frederick & Nelson was the successor to a business founded by two partners, Donald E. Frederick and James Mecham, who had been mining pals back in Colorado. They happened to connect shortly after Frederick arrived in Seattle on a steamer in 1890 and they pooled their resources to start a second-hand furniture business.

After setting up shop in several locations, the business was named J.G. Mecham and Company. Another mining pal arrived from Colorado and Nels B. Nelson, who was born in Sweden, purchased with cash a one-third interest in the business. Several months later Mecham sold his interest because of ill health. The name was changed to Frederick & Nelson and they vowed to create the largest and finest store west of the Mississippi and north of San Francisco.

D.E. Frederick and Nels B. Nelson proved to be a natural team. Frederick had a keen instinct for merchandising and a high regard for service while Nelson's outgoing personality was the driving force for the store's success by making friends and forging partnerships. Early customers included the local Indians and a thriving populace fueled by the news that Seattle would become the western terminus for the Great Northern Railway.

In 1891, the partners acquired the Queen City Furniture Company and began selling new furniture. They proclaimed "What our customers want, we will give them. Service is our motto." Their sincerity was tested when just before closing time on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1890, a customer came in to purchase a second-hand rocker for his wife for Christmas, provided it was delivered that night. Frederick & Nelson both sloshed through the snow to the top of Denny Hill to deliver the heavy chair. This was the first delivery in the history of Frederick & Nelson. Legend has it that their first credit customer was an Indian woman who coveted a second-hand parlor stove. The stove was hers for weekly payments of berries, a woven mat and a sweet grass basket.

The Klondike Gold Rush around the start of the 20th century fueled further growth of Seattle. There was a growing demand for fine furnishings in the blossoming hotel business as well as in the fine homes of the city's inhabitants. Their simple philosophy was that "If a customer asks for it, get it and if enough people want the same thing, start a department." There were departments for furniture, carpeting, housewares, china and draperies. They even had a mattress factory.

Munro was leery of rapid expansion and he soon parted company with Frederick & Nelson. Tragedy struck in 1907 when the ailing Nels Nelson was returning from a trip to a medical spa in Bohemia and died at sea. Frederick was left to run the entire operation.

Expansion plans floated in 1914 for a brand-new building six stories tall with a seventh floor in the basement. Despite a shortage of building materials that were needed elsewhere to fight the First World War, the building opened the day after Labor Day on September 3, 1918 at Pine Street and Fifth Avenue.[1] Over 25,000 shoppers and guests made it through the doors that day. Frederick was forward-thinking enough to make the foundation strong enough to hold 10 stories. Even though businessmen and financiers branded the project "Frederick's Folly," his dream was finally realized three decades later.

Marshall Field's[edit]

At the age of 69, D.E. Frederick decided to retire and sell the store to the Marshall Field Company in 1929 for six million dollars. He was most impressed with the policies of Marshall Field and had even patterned Frederick & Nelson after Marshall Field and Company. They signed a 99-year lease on the property that would pay Frederick (and later his estate) $100,000 a year.

During its final two decades, the Frederick & Nelson chain included several large stores at suburban shopping malls, such as Washington Square, in the west-side suburbs of Portland, Oregon.

In 1943, Frederick & Nelson opened a satellite store at Boeing Field at the Boeing Airplane Company’s number 2 plant. They supported the war effort and built a loyalty among the airplane manufacturer’s 47,000 employees. Frederick’s also established a “Victory Post” on the main floor of the Seattle store, selling war bonds and stamps. Frederick’s was one of a handful of stores in the nation to receive a U.S. Treasury Department T-Flag. The T-Flag signified that over 90% of the employees invested at least 10 percent of their earnings in war bonds. D.E. Frederick’s dreams for expansion of the original store at Pine Street and Fifth Avenue finally were realized when the grand re-opening was celebrated August 4, 1952. There were 10 floors above ground and two below. The building housed a beauty salon, post office, movie picture auditorium, a fully equipped medical facility and a nursery. There were reading and writing rooms and the large, elaborately furnished fifth-floor Tea Room could seat 400. On the tenth floor, the company built a modern candy kitchen that could turn out more than 500,000 pounds of Frango chocolate a year. Later a kindergarten and a children's barbershop were added. (The original Frederick & Nelson store reopened as Nordstrom’s flagship store in 1998.)

By 1980, Frederick & Nelson had become one of the fastest growing stores in the nation, nearly quadrupling from four stores to 15. Marshall Field’s acquired three Liberty House Stores in Portland and two in Tacoma as well as six Lipman's stores in Oregon from the Dayton Hudson Corporation. They were all converted to Frederick & Nelson stores.

Demise[edit]

Ownership would change three more times in the next nine years as business went on a downward spiral. Management changes occurred in 1982 when BATUS Inc. of Louisville, Kentucky bought all of the outstanding stock of Marshall Field and Company. BATUS Retail Group now included Marshall Field’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Frederick and Nelson, Gimbels, Kohl's and a number of other department stores. By the mid-1980s they were beginning to close the Oregon stores. One Oregon location at Washington Square lasted until 1990.

BATUS sold the money-losing Frederick & Nelson to local investors in January 1986.[2] Poor management decisions led to an over abundance of lower-priced, out-of-season merchandise and large investments in inventory at the wrong prices. No longer known for fashionable, high-end clothing, Frederick & Nelson proved ill-equipped to withstand competitive pressures, particularly when the Seattle area entered a recession in the late 1980s. Fading rapidly, the chain found itself in a fatal liquidity crisis and closed its doors for the last time in May 1992.[3][4]

Frango[edit]

Frango's exact year of creation and the origin of the name have been lost to history. According to a trademark document from the U.S. Patent Office, the name Frango was first officially used on June 1, 1918. A popular item on the Tearoom menu was a frozen dessert called Frango and it was available in maple and orange flavors. The name probably originated by the combination of Fran from FRederick’s And Nelson, and the go from the tango dance craze. In 1926, the consistency of the Frango Dessert was described as flaky, requiring the use of a fork, not a spoon, as you would use with ice cream. Eventually the Frango dessert line included pies, ice cream sodas and milk shakes. It was decided upon in 1928 or 1929 that Frederick’s should offer a chocolate mint truffle. Candy maker Ray Alden is credited with developing the Frango Mint. His secret recipe called for chocolate from cocoa beans grown on the African Coast and South America, triple-distilled oil of Oregon peppermint and 40 percent butter. A few months after Frederick sold out to Marshall Field's in 1929, Frederick's candy makers in Seattle were summoned to Chicago to introduce Frango chocolates to Marshall Field's to help build slumping sales during the Great Depression. Soon, the candy kitchen at Marshall Field's had produced their own Mid-western interpretation of the Frango chocolate recipe.

Even after the store's demise, the F & N Frango lives on. In the Northwest, they were sold in The Bon Marché[5] (now Macy's) as well as in Portland's Meier & Frank. Frangos can still be found in Macy's stores in Seattle in their familiar hexagonal box. In addition, they are still a favorite at the Macy's stores that were formerly Dayton's, Hudson's, and Marshall Field's.

See also[edit]

The Crescent   A similar department store in Spokane, and elsewhere in eastern Washington and Oregon, also owned by Marshall Field. Renamed as Frederick & Nelson by BATUS in the mid-1980s.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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