Frederick & Nelson's First Big Store

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D. E. Frederick and Nels Nelson opened a second-hand store in Seattle in 1890. Soon they found it easier to buy unused merchandise than ferret out the old. So they discarded the nearly new trade, and in time their store became the largest and finest department store west of the Mississippi and north of San Francisco. In 1897, in the first flush of the Klondike gold rush, the store was moved into the two center storefronts of the new Rialto building at Second Avenue and Madison streets. In 1906 the partners bought out the block, and Frederick & Nelson stretched their name the length of an entire city block, from Madison to Spring Streets, along the west side of Second.

This week’s historical scene shows Seattle’s first grand emporium during, or some time after, 1906. [Truthfully, this is NOT the photograph that was used in the Times 23 years ago, but it is similar.] Ordinarily, shopping at Frederick & Nelson was not like joining rampaging consumers at a big store’s big sale.  At Frederick’s, you were invited to take classes, visit an art gallery, chat with friends over tea or just ride the wonderful hydraulic elevator. A big center room with a high ceiling for hanging tapestries and Persian rugs was a kind of sanctuary for consumption. Years later, you might not remember what was bought but you would recall the “aura” of the experience of having really purchased something. This touch of class also was found in the elaborately decorated show windows along Second Avenue, and even in the street itself. Every morning, Frederick and Nelson’s 16 heavy teams of horses paraded from their stables down the length of Second Avenue.

Nelson died in 1906, but Frederick continued to make the right moves, including the one in 1918 that took him “out of town” north to the main store’s modern location at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street.  In 1929, Frederick retired to his home in the Highlands and sold his grand emporium to Marshall Field & Co. of Chicago. After his death 20 years later, his old golfing crony, the then 95-year-old Seattle Times columnist C.T. Conover, recalled Frederick as a kind of heroic capitalist saint who “left a record of straight shooting, fair play, honorable dealing, enlightened vision, common sense, civic enterprise, noble spirit and generous support of every worthy cause.”

[In searching my “lists” I discover that I have returned to Frederick and Nelson more than six times over the past 23 years, and will try to insert the others soon and in line.  This first instance was first published in Pacific on Sept. 28, 1986 and used the photograph insert directly below.   It was then still long before the big store folded for want of a suburban parking lot around it and competition from “warehouse wholesalers.”]

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One thought on “Frederick & Nelson's First Big Store”

  1. My grandmother met my grandfather in the elevator of Fredrick and Nelson’s. She was an elevator operator and he was delivering meat to the restaurant for Carston’s Meat Packing.
    Thanks Paul.

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