Frederick & Nelson

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Frederick & Nelson
IndustryRetail/Department store
FateClosed (bankrupted)
SuccessorMarshall Field's
Defunct1992; 28 years ago (1992)
HeadquartersSeattle, Washington
United States
ParentMarshall 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.


Frederick & Nelson, Rialto Building, ca. 1914
Frederick & Nelson: its flagship store, opened in 1918 in Seattle, circa 1922. It was later expanded upward by four more stories, and it remained in use until 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. 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. Their motto was, "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 and Nelson 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 "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 ten stories. Even though businessmen and financiers branded the project "Frederick's Folly," his dream was finally realized three decades later.

Marshall Field[edit]

At the age of 69 in 1929, D. E. Frederick decided to retire and he sold the store to the Marshall Field Company for $6 million. 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 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 more than 90 percent 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 ten floors above ground and two below. The building housed a beauty salon, post office, moving 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 chocolates a year. Later the company added a kindergarten and a children's barbershop. (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 fifteen. 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. All were converted to Frederick & Nelson stores.


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 Co. BATUS Retail Group now included Marshall Field, Saks Fifth Avenue, Frederick & Nelson, Gimbels, Kohl's and a number of other department stores. By the mid-1980s they were beginning to close the Oregon stores;[2] one Oregon location at Washington Square lasted until 1990.

BATUS sold the money-losing Frederick & Nelson to local investors in January 1986.[3] Poor management decisions led to an overabundance 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 became unable to withstand competitive pressures, particularly when the Seattle area entered a recession in the late 1980s. Fading rapidly, the chain entered a fatal liquidity crisis and closed for the last time in May 1992.[4][5]


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 & 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, such as one would use with ice cream. Eventually the Frango dessert line included pies, ice cream sodas, and milk shakes. It was decided 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 in 1929, Frederick's candy makers in Seattle were summoned to Chicago to introduce Frango chocolates to Marshall Field to help build slumping sales during the Great Depression. Soon, the candy kitchen at Marshall Field 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, the candy was sold in The Bon Marché[6][7] (now Macy's) as well as in Portland's Meier & Frank. Frango 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. The "classic" Frango mint candy now exists in three varieties—the Frederick & Nelson recipe primarily available in the Pacific Northwest, the Marshall Field recipe available in Chicago area Macy's stores and produced locally, and a Marshall Field recipe produced by the Gertrude Hawk Candy Company of Dunsmore, Pennsylvania for distribution at other Macy's locations. Prior to the acquisition by May, Marshall Field transferred all production of Frango to Gertrude Hawk; Macy's chairman, Terry Lundgren, promised a Chicago-made Frango as a concession to protests regarding the loss of the Field name.

Invention of "the department store Santa Claus photo"[edit]

The first department store Santa Claus is generally believed to have been introduced in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1890. Santa Claus gradually became a fixture in all kinds of stores during the holiday season around the country.

By the late 1930s, an annual visit to a department store Santa was a common holiday season activity across the United States. Snapping a photo of the visit with St. Nick, and selling it to mom or dad, was something new.

Frederick & Nelson in Seattle may have been where it happened first.

In December 1943 management of the Frederick & Nelson department store in downtown Seattle had moved their popular Santa Claus operations to a prominent display window along the sidewalk.

This led to a moment of "Eureka" for local photographer Arthur "Happy" French, a news photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

In those years, the Seattle P-I headquarters was kitty-corner from Frederick & Nelson's in downtown Seattle.

Seeing all those kids visiting Santa Claus gave French an idea.

As the 1944 Christmas season approached, French took several weeks' leave from the Seattle P-I, and set up a photo concession jointly with Frederick & Nelson. French used a hidden large-format camera and captured "candid" portraits of children visiting with Santa in black and white. It was wildly successful, so French did it again in 1945.

It's unclear how the practice ultimately spread around the country, and Seattle's Santa photo phenomenon may have been similar to other operations elsewhere. But in March 1946, Time magazine profiled French and the industry he had launched at the Frederick & Nelson flagship store .

The brief article describes how French did the post-Christmas math. In a month of work during the 1945 Christmas season, he'd netted $10,000 selling Santa pictures. That was three times his annual salary at the Seattle P-I, and he'd made it working just one-twelfth the time. French quit the Post-Intelligencer in early 1946 and made Santa photos (and, eventually, Easter Bunny photos) his full-time business, through an enterprise that came to be known as "Arthur & Associates". The company functioned as Frederick & Nelson's exclusive Santa Claus photo provider at the downtown flagship store and eventually at other locations around the Puget Sound.

During the time that French was first snapping pics, Santa Claus was played at Frederick's in downtown Seattle, for the most part, by a radio actor (and tuxedo store salesperson) named Dave Harris. Photos of Harris as Santa Claus, taken by Art French, are on the mantles (or in the attics) of thousands of Northwest families this time of year. Harris was on the job from 1942 to 1968.

Visiting the downtown Frederick & Nelson's with Dave Harris as Santa, specifically, became a local tradition for Seattle area Baby Boomers and their parents. Today, the latest generations of families continue to carry on the tradition. [8]

The Crescent is a similar department store in Spokane and elsewhere in eastern Washington and Oregon, and also owned by Marshall Field. It was renamed Frederick & Nelson by BATUS in the mid-1980s.


  1. ^ "University of Washington Libraries Digital Collection".[permanent dead link] Downtown Flagship Store
  2. ^ "Frederick & Nelson closes 2 stores". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. October 3, 1986. p. 10.
  3. ^ Iritani, Evelyn (September 30, 1986). "Frederick's Purchase Is Completed and a New Team Is At Work". The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. p. B6.[dead link]
  4. ^ Paynter, Susan (May 22, 1992). "Mourning Frederick's the Great: Patrons and Employees Remember the Store as the 'Ultimate In Luxury'". The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. p. A1.[dead link]
  5. ^ Matthee, Imbert (June 9, 1992). "Five F&N Stores Auctioned Off; Gottschalk's, Saks Deal For Southcenter, Bellevue Sites". The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. p. A1.[dead link]
  6. ^ "Bon Marche acquires Frango rights". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. October 7, 1991. p. A8.
  7. ^ Matthee, Imbert (September 11, 1992). "F&N Wants Bon To Sell Frangos". The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. p. C1.[dead link]
  8. ^ Banel, Feliks (December 14, 2016) Seattle's department store Santa photos revolutionized the holidays KIRO 710 AM -

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