My recent trek to Nordstrom Rack in Seattle was an epic tale of adversity and perseverance and, ultimately, disappointment. Here is how it all went down.

Last weekend, my fiancé and I were in Vancouver. Luckily for yours truly, my beloved is a man of infinite (or at least vast) patience who does not outright abhor shopping. With a minimal amount of persuasion, he fell in with my plans to spend a day across the border in the hunt for good bargains. The outlets at Tulalip are our usual destination, but this time round we decided to venture further afield. In fact, it was his suggestion that we go to Nordstrom Rack; to hear him speak of it, it was a sort of promised land of high end designer bargains. I was sold on the idea before he even finished describing his last visit – which took place roughly a decade ago. This, as it later turned out, was an important detail. To go on with the story …

In order to accomplish our mission, we had to rent a car in Vancouver. No big deal, right? Well … Much to our surprise, the car rental company announced that we had to pay a (daily) premium any time that we wanted to take the car out of the country. So much for unlimited kilometers. We’ve rented from other companies before without being told of any such requirement, so this came as an unpleasant surprise. It’s not like car rental companies don’t give you enough upsell as it is. Still, we were determined to persevere, so we bit the bullet and went (grumbling) on our way.

Sunday morning, we wake up bright and early. By that, I mean that I woke up at 6 am, and then spent the next 45 minutes trying to wake up my beloved. To give him his due, once he’s up he’s pretty efficient. By 7, we were on the road. A little before 8, we hit the border … and ran smack dab into a kilometer-long queue. So much for our head start. I now have infinite respect for people living in the great metropolises of the world who spend hours in traffic jams every day; I couldn’t do what they do and not lose my sanity. Anyway, about an hour later, we were finally on American soil.

It looked just the same as on the home side.

The distance from the border to Seattle is roughly the same as between Edmonton and Calgary. I’m not sure if this was a function of the imperial (vs metric) system, but the trip to Seattle seemed to take an awfully long time. It became particularly painful after we lost our Vancouver soft rock radio station. Yeah, that’s right, I said it: soft rock. We are officially old people. But I am not ashamed to admit that I love Adam Lambert, bless his soul. And, like, Eric Clapton and Sting. Not ashamed one bit.

Anyway, after a seemingly interminable period, we finally arrived on the outskirts of Seattle. My fiance had only a very general idea of the location of Nordstrom Rack, a fact of which he made me aware only then. Nevertheless we plunged on, the rumbling in our tummies a warning sign of impending doom. We were hungry, and thirsty, and in need of amenities. And, in short order, we were also lost. There are many pitfalls for a relationship – infidelity, distrust, arguments about money, snoring. Overlooked on the usual list is being lost in a foreign city. It’s the sort of predicament in which tempers fray quicker than silk and recriminations are thicker than smog. Somehow, we managed to keep our cool – it’s not for nothing that we’re pledging our eternity to each other – but it wasn’t an easy go. Finally, we stumbled upon the right place.

If you think our troubles were over, think again. We still had to find parking. Now, I’ve heard lots of people complain about downtown parking in Edmonton. Heck, I’ve complained about it plenty of times myself. Two bucks buys, what, an hour and a half at a meter? Well, let me tell you, we have it good. In downtown Seattle, parking can cost you as much as US$6 for the first half hour … and $5 per half hour after that. After twenty minutes of circling around, we finally found a parkade that charged an $8 flat rate.

At last, we were about to enter the famed Rack.

Inside was sheer madness. If you find Winners difficult to navigate, you would hate Nordstrom Rack. It’s like a madhouse version of Winners on four floors. Non-designer shoes are haphazardly stacked foot-deep (roughly according to size), which means that browsing requires a Zen-master’s level of focus and commitment. I gave up after 5 minutes. I had a bit more success finding my way around in the clothes department, only to discover that the deals were non-existent (at least for things I was interested in). A Nanette Lepore top I saw a few weeks ago at a local consignment store for $25 was selling for $99. A BCBG suit I own was selling for triple what I paid for it here … a year ago. [I’ve got the suit listed on Kijiji, if anyone is interested.] Everywhere, more of the same. Admittedly, they had designer jeans for $70-150 a pair, but I wasn’t in the market and skipped the whole section. This does show, however, that designer jeans are hideously overpriced in Canada.

In the end, I tried on a few things, half-heartedly and without any success, including a Dolce and Gabbana coral-and-gold jacquard suit. I can report that it did not appear to possess any magical abilities, though it did hug my butt in a rather flattering way – though not quite 700 dollars’ worth to be sure. I did not buy anything except a few bracelets, which were cute but by no means a phenomenal deal. I left Nordstrom Rack a disappointed, tired, still-hungry woman.

So was it all worth it?

No … and yes. My little adventure (temporarily) cured me of my inferiority complex. I no longer felt as though, by virtue of my citizenship, I was missing out on some amazing shopping bonanzas. In fact, based on this experience alone, I can honestly say that Edmonton has nothing to be ashamed of. It now gets a good 80-90% of the same (mainstream) stuff as the rest of North America, and the deals are as good (or better) than anywhere else. Plus, you can beat 5% GST.

Now, let’s work on getting Target and JCrew down here, and then we’ll be in business. 

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