You or I might walk into the REI flagship store in Seattle and see, well, a store. A really, really nice store. But a store.

Not Jim Nowlin. He's in nirvana, Valhalla, Olympus or whatever version of heaven you prefer.Seattle may be best-known for building Boeing jets, creating Microsoft programs or sending out amazon.com books.

But the city beside Puget Sound is also home to a small group of retailers that have made nationwide, sometimes worldwide, names for themselves.

John W. Nordstrom was a Swede who came to the United States at age 16 with five dollars in his pocket, followed the Klondike Gold Rush to Alaska and headed back to Seattle at the turn of the century with $13,000 to open a shoe store. In a "back to the future" move, Nordstrom is moving into the former Frederick & Nelson's Department Store, built in 1919, which will house its flagship store and corporate headquarters. It's easy to find - just look for the huge, inflated legs and shoes hanging from the rooftop.

Nordstrom was well-established by the time Eddie Bauer opened his sporting-goods shop up the hill in 1920. Bauer first made a splash with what was advertised as the best badminton shuttlecock in the United States. But Bauer's big mark came during World War II, when his B-9 aviator jackets were worn by 50,000 airmen around the world.

Bauer retired in 1968, selling to cerealmaker General Mills, which later sold to Spiegel, the famous catalog company. The flagship is still in Seattle, at Fifth Avenue and Union Street.

Bauer's shuttlecock was all the rage when Lloyd Anderson was stewing about his lousy ice ax. He had paid $7 for the mail-order dud, only to find he could get a top-quality Austrian Academ Pickel ice axe for $3.50. His climbing friends all wanted one, and he ordered a bunch.

So was born Recreational Equipment Inc., a cooperative that has become one of the hottest outdoor outfitters in the country.

REI's flagship store is the best place in Seattle to soak in the Pacific Northwest lifestyle; it's the one just off the I-5 freeway. Outside are large Swiss Army clocks that tell the time on famous peaks from Mount Everest to Mount Kilimanjaro to nearby Mount Rainier.

Three years after Eddie Bauer sold to General Mills, a small shop opened across the street from Pike Place Market, selling whole-bean coffee. Then the shop, called Starbucks, started brewing coffee on the premises.

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Additional Information

If you go

Nordstrom, Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, 206-628-2111. 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.

Eddie Bauer, 1501 Fifth Ave., 206-622-2766. 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun-days.

REI Seattle, 222 Yale Ave. North, 206-223-1944. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Climbing wall hours vary.

Starbucks Store No.1, Soames-Dunn Building, Pike Place and Stewart Street, 206-448-8762, 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m., daily; Sundays, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.