‘Who is She?’

I was born and raised in Tacoma, WA — it’s a small city, and at times a not very great city, but it is home. As a kid my parents took me along to the mall — which wasn’t touring the mall — truly we only went to Nordstrom and Excalibur (so I could look at the knives). The fondest memory I have of Nordstrom is the little guy who sat and played the piano while we shopped, tired, and I waited for my parents to be finished.

I would say that he played the piano at Nordstrom my entire life, but that would be a lie. In truth, Juan Perez, played the piano at the Tacoma Mall Nordstrom for 27 years of my 30 year life. This past Sunday (1.27.13) he was let go:

Where once Nordstrom shoppers in many stores shopped to the music played by a live pianist, today only 30 of the stores nationwide provide such upscale ambiance. Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow said the Tacoma Mall outlet was the last such store in Washington.

Until today I never knew his name. Until today I never knew the incredible story behind the man that played Sinatra while I shopped. Today I am amazed by Perez.

On his audition:

They were dressed, he said, as if they had shopped at Nordstrom. He was not. They were carrying sheet music. Perez did not, and does not, read notes. He plays by ear.

“I was the first one to play,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting they would hire me, and I was dressed in a regular shirt. I started playing and playing as the store opened up. I didn’t even have an application.”

He had the job by the time he got home. Amazing.

This little tidbit is priceless:

TV star Linda Evans once walked up to have a word. “She came to me but I didn’t know who she was. When she left the ladies from cosmetics came up to me and asked, ‘What did Linda Evans tell you?’ I asked, ‘Who is she?’ ”

Through his job at Nordstrom, Perez and his wife, have put 9 of their 10 kids through college, while the last is finishing high school at a private school. His story is amazing, and worth a moment of your time if you enjoy people who have mastered their craft.


It’s sad to think that Nordstrom believes they are better off with recorded music blasting the same ten songs all day long. It’s sad to think that shoppers prefer that to the melodic tones of Sinatra being played live while they shop. Perez speaks a lot about changing the mood of the store based on the songs he chooses, something that he can do on the fly as he observes a need. Perez talks of people starting to dance has he plays — now Nordstrom will go the way of Old Navy, with the same boring music played too loudly to think, or shop, let alone dance.

Wouldn’t it be great if Apple stole these fantastic pianists from Nordstrom, stuck them in Apple Stores around the world. The music could be played on a keyboard hooked to an iPad, the notes shown live above them, recorded into Garageband — inspiring another generation. The stores might just be a bit calmer, and a bit more enjoyable too.

Update: Looks like he is doing just fine.

Originally posted for members on: January 28, 2013
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