Bruce Nordstrom, the Ultimate Shoe Dog Who Grew His Family Business Into a Retail Powerhouse, Dies at 90

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Im a shoe dog. I say that with all my heart. That doesn’t sound like a complimentary title, but that’s me,” declared Bruce Nordstrom onstage at the FN Achievement Awards in December 2018.

Nordstrom, the ultimate shoe dog, died on Saturday at age 90.

“It is with deep sadness we announce our dad passed away comfortably at home on May 18, with his wife Jeannie by his side,” said Pete and Erik Nordstrom, in a joint statement. “Our dad will be remembered not only for his significant contributions to Nordstrom, but also for his unwavering dedication to his family and friends. His passion, integrity and tireless work ethic served as an inspiration to everyone around him. But perhaps his greatest achievement was being an amazing father, husband and grandfather. Our dad leaves a powerful legacy as a legendary business leader, a generous community citizen and a loyal friend.”

Bruce Nordstrom’s storied career began at the tender age of 9, when he started working at the family shoe store, and his love for his family defined his life and his work.

In 2018, a few months before he received FN’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Nordstrom admitted that being in the business wasn’t a mandate for the third-generation Nordstrom.

Bruce Nordstrom
Bruce Nordstrom graces the Dec. 3, 2018, cover of FN.

My daddy [Everett] said, ‘If you don’t want to do this, go do something else,’ but I never did,” said Bruce at the time. “It was the Second World War, and I was sweeping floors, emptying shoeboxes, breaking them up, flattening them and tying them into bundles. It was hard work, as I was a skinny little guy.”

That skinny kid, who “absolutely loved” retail and its simplicity at the time, inherited a tireless family work ethic.

Driven and detail-oriented, Bruce was asked to be president at 30.

Amid a period of great growth, Bruce and team took the company public in 1971, debuted the first Nordstrom Rack in 1973 and continued major expansion throughout the U.S., including the lucrative California market, before he officially retired in 1995.

Bruce Nordstrom and Sons
The three sons and their dad: Erik, Pete, Blake and Bruce Nordstrom in 2008.

His retirement was somewhat short-lived, as he returned to the chairman role in 2000 during a rocky time for the company — and then he retired for good in 2006.

More than a decade later, Bruce — who proudly handed the reins to his sons, Erik, Pete and the late Blake Nordstrom — relished any opportunity to be on the retail floor.

“I still like to go around and ask about everything,” Bruce said in 2018. “I get to know the store manager and look around different departments. Of course, I can’t know everyone now, but they know Mr. Bruce.”

Erik Nordstrom, then co-president of the family business (and now CEO), told FN that same year that his dad’s vision for retail was best exemplified on the shoe floor. “You literally are on your hands and knees in front of the customer trying to take care of them. This spirit of service and healthy humility is a great lesson for us wherever we are serving customers,” the younger Nordstrom said. His brother Pete added: “[His best advice was to] get on the floor — the sales floor. All the answers to your business are on the floor.

The late Blake Nordstrom, who also served as co-president with his brothers at the time, recalled how fortunate he and his brothers were to spend their earliest years in the shoe division. “We were extremely fortunate to work with a number of terrific managers. They, in turn, were supported by our dad, who was unwavering over the years in his true north of how to be a good merchant and be successful in the shoe business,” Blake said in 2018.

Erik also spoke about his father’s love for his family. “Loyalty has always been of the utmost importance to my dad, and nowhere does this show more than when he talks about family,” he said.

Bruce Nordstrom is survived by his wife Jeannie; his sister Anne Gittinger; his sons Pete and Erik; daughter-in laws Brandy, Julie and Molly; and seven grandchildren, Alex, Andy, Leigh, Sam, Sara, Micki and Chet.

Launch Gallery: Remembering Bruce Nordstrom: 1933 to 2024

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