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Previewing 'Tosa's Nordstrom Rack
The discount department store opens Thursday.

A very full parking lot in front of Nordstrom Rack.

Tuesday evening select shoppers were invited to a preview event of the Wauwatosa Nordstrom Rack (Highway 45 and Burleigh Rd.), which is part of the newly finished Mayfair Collection that opens tomorrow. I was not selected, so I attended as a guest of my colleague Abby Callard.

After braving the early rush-hour traffic heading west from Downtown, we arrived in Wauwatosa close to 5 p.m., nearly one hour after the event began. The recently paved parking lot was nearly full when we arrived, so we parked in between the Saks Off Fifth and Carter's. 

When we entered the store, we handed off our invite to a greeter. I immediately spied what looked like a tray of liquid in green glass bottles and so, as a regularly thirsty human, I bee-lined. I was ecstatic to discover the liquid in those bottles was champagne.

A very healthy serving of champagne.

Suddenly, everywhere I looked I saw champagne trays, and with a little squinting, the trays of Leinenkugel's bottled beer came into full view, followed by a bar full of beer.

And now I understood.

So this is how they're going to win us over, I thought. The 'ole Wisconsin way. 

But if you've ever shopped at a Nordstrom Rack, you'll know the store needs to do almost nothing to win over a crowd. Thrifty Milwaukeeans especially will appreciate the vast selection at steeply discounted prices. 

It wasn't until I started slurping my champagne through a blue-striped straw, that I noticed the trays of food. It was almost hard to concentrate on the potential sartorial scores when it was dinner time and there was food floating by, innocently waiting to be consumed.

Servers clad in all-black ensembles hustled through the crowds peddling what I soon realized were Wisconsin-themed treats. Brat sliders with mustard on a pretzel bun? I ate it. Braised beef tacos held upright by a cleverly sliced lime? I ate two. A small pretzel stuffed with jalapeno beer cheese sauce? It was in my mouth before the server could finish saying what it was. 

This was all while Abby and I perused the sections standard at any Rack. The women's clothing section takes up one of the largest portion of the store, followed by a yet-to-be-picked-over shoe section that could rival all of the Milwaukee-area DSWs combined. A smaller purse section held Marc by Marc Jacobs stock as well as an abundance of Kate Spades in all shapes and bright colors.

The housewares section is very small, but the jewelry and watches were a sight to behold. If you've ever been to an established Rack, you'll share in my enthusiasm for a virgin selection of inventory.

The crowd was another matter. Women pushing children in strollers, women with shopping carts overflowing with swag, women with phones smashed to their ears - it was a circus of women hungry for deals. (Some, like me, were also hungry for the food.)

By about 5:45, the line for the checkout was wrapping through the store, and the line for the fitting rooms was snaking through the aisles. My little green bottle of champagne had been drained, and I knew it was time to go.

I ate my cake pop in the solitude of my car.
As we walked toward the exit, people were streaming through the entrance, the fire of red-ticket discounts burning in their eyes. I grabbed one final carrot cake pop, and left.

The store will surely be busy when it opens on Thursday with the rest of phase one of the Mayfair Collection. I'd bet the crowds won't subside for the first few months, especially when lady shoppers can hit Saks Off Fifth, Ulta, Old Navy and the Rack in one fell swoop.

The Rack welcomed Milwaukeeans with very hospitable arms, and, it seemed, the crowds responded in kind.

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