High-end U.S. retailer Nordstrom is moving north of the border starting in the fall of 2014 with the opening of its first four Canadian stores in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver.
The expansion - Nordstrom's first beyond U.S. borders - will create 1,000 new jobs and could see five more Canadian locations added in the years to come, the company said Thursday.
"We're just really excited for the opportunity to get our doors open here and prove ourselves," said Blake Nordstrom, company president and CEO during an announcement in Toronto. "This is a significant milestone for us as a company."
The upscale department store joins a growing list of foreign chains that have recently announced they will be vying for coveted Canadian consumer dollars.
The Seattle-based retailer will move into renovated space vacated by Sears Canada at Pacific Centre in Vancouver, Chinook Centre in Calgary and Rideau Centre in Ottawa. A new store will be built at Toronto's Sherway Gardens.
The tentative timeline for the Nordstrom stores opening is: fall of 2014 in Calgary; spring of 2015 in Ottawa and Vancouver; and fall of 2016 in Toronto.
Vancouver will get the largest store, with three levels and 230,000 square feet. The Ottawa store will be two levels and 157,000 square feet, the Calgary store two levels with 140,000 square feet, and the Toronto store will have two levels with 138,000 square feet.
The openings will result in 1,000 new jobs, says Karen McKibbin, the newly installed president of Nordstrom Canada.
In March, Sears announced it would sell back leases for three of its stores to Cadillac Fairview, its landlord, for about $170 million, as it works to revamp its struggling Canadian operations.
Sears Canada has been cutting jobs, decluttering stores and making other moves to attract more customers in a highly competitive Canadian retail market.
Nordstrom says it's only fitting that the chain is coming to Canada.
One of its co-founders, John W. Nordstrom, had immigrated to the Yukon from Sweden during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s.
After working as a lumberjack and a miner, he took a risk and started panning for gold in the northern Canadian territory.
Two years later, he saved $13,000 and used that capital to open the first Nordstrom shoe store in Seattle in 1901.
Blake Nordstrom says the idea to move into Canada's market has been in the works for years, calling it the "worst kept secret" in the retail world.
Part of the delay, he says, was that the company wanted to ensure it understood Canadian customers before taking the leap.
"We recognize there's differences and so that's partly why we've been slow in coming to Canada," said Nordstrom.
"We wanted to ensure that we would be executing well and be at a stage with our company that we were ready to give it our best effort in Canada."
One of the reasons why Canada has been so attractive to U.S. retailers is that it weathered the recession better than its southern neighbour, he said.
"It's pretty evident that your economy has been stronger and more robust," said Nordstrom, adding that companies know success in Canada is not a given.
He said the new stores will offer a variety of upscale clothing brands, but what will set them apart from its competitors is the high level of customer service that will be offered.
John Sullivan, Cadillac Fairview president and CEO, called Nordstrom an "excellent fit" for all four malls. "Our feeling is that they will attract additional shoppers and drive more traffic to the malls," he said.
Nordstrom said depending on the success of these four locations, the company will look at opening as many as five other stores in Canada over the next few years, including Nordstrom Racks, its off-price retail division.
The upscale fashion retailer's foray into Canada marks its first expansion into the international market.
Currently, Canadians can purchase items directly from Nordstrom's website, with shipping fees that includes the cost of duties at checkout.
The company says 15,000 Canadians already hold Nordstrom credit cards, with many crossing the border from B.C. to shop at its stores in Seattle.
Nordstrom operates 231 stores in the United States.