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Originally published December 2, 2012 at 5:34 AM | Page modified December 2, 2012 at 3:12 PM

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Pete Nordstrom: ‘I’ve been a fortunate person all my life and I don’t take it for granted’

Seattle Times staff columnist

Nicole’s calendar

St. Nicholas Faire

The First Lutheran Church of West Seattle is inviting the community to eat, drink and be merry so that others can do the same this Christmas. This benefit for the West Seattle Food Bank and Helpline includes appetizers, a wine tasting, a bake sale and a silent auction. It begins at 4 p.m. today, Sunday, Dec. 2, at the church, 4105 S. California Ave. S.W. Cost is $10 per person or $5 with a canned food donation; and $25 per family or $15 with a canned food donation. (206-935-6530).

It’s for the kids!

While you’re out there Christmas shopping, be sure to stop by University Village on Wednesday, Dec. 5 for its annual Holidate event. A $25 ticket not only gets you shopping perks and discounts all day, it pays for one night for a family to rest their weary heads at the Ronald McDonald House. (206-523-0622 or www.uvillage.com/holidate).

Warm and fed

In Italian, “Gioia ai Bambini” translates to “Joy to the Kids.” I just think it’s nice. From now through Dec. 12, those who donate a new, or gently used warm winter coat at Cornuto, Pizzeria 22 (Ventidue) and Via Tribunali Neapolitan Pizzeria will receive a free margherita pizza. The coats will go to children aged 0-18 at the Atlantic Street Center. And donors will go home feeling full of good.

Coming up

SMooCH

A benefit concert for Seattle Children’s Hospital. 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle. Featuring Brad, the Chris Friel Orchestra with special guests Pete Drog and Carrie Akre, Stag, The Young Evils, The Sangster Family Band and Rachel Flotard. Reserved tickets, $150; $100 general admission, includes complimentary beer, wine and appetizers (www.thetripledoor.net).

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It’s a pretty safe bet that if your mother’s name is on the wall of the hospital wing, you’re going to get the best care possible.

But Pete Nordstrom wasn’t counting on anything.

His infant son, Chet, was just five weeks old last February when he entered the Fran Nordstrom Surgical Wing at Seattle Children’s Hospital to undergo open heart surgery.

The baby had been diagnosed with a condition called DiGeorge Syndrome, a chromosomal defect that can cause up to 180 developmental issues, from the heart to the palate to learning capabilities.

Chet recovered at Children’s for six weeks and is now home.

And Nordstrom, 50, a scion of the department store family, a music fan, a bass player and one of the best-dressed people in town, is forever changed.

He may even be better.

“I’ve been a fortunate person my whole life, and I don’t take it for granted,” he said the other day. “Stuff happens to people. It’s humbling. I feel extremely grateful and humbled by what’s happened.”

So grateful to Children’s and to his own good fortune that he is organizing a benefit concert for the hospital called SMooCH (Seattle Musicians for Children’s Hospital), to be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Triple Door in Seattle.

“I could write a check, but I thought, ‘Let’s do something more,’ ” Nordstrom said.

He was inspired by Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit, which for 26 years has raised money for the Hillsborough, Calif., nonprofit that serves those with severe speech and physical impairments.

Young’s motivation, like Nordstrom’s, is personal. Both of his sons, Ben and Zeke, have cerebral palsy.

Nordstrom has done the same with SMooCH: Call upon his friends in the music community to help him give back.

It seemed a natural for Nordstrom, who has played bass for years, currently in a band called Stag. (Their new self-titled album will be released Tuesday by Fin Records.)

“We’ve all gone from being 21-year-olds making noise to community members with families and careers,” he said. “People have grown up.”

Nordstrom enlisted KEXP DJ John Richards to emcee, and aimed high when it came to his roster: Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Maybe he could reunite the Screaming Trees.

When he realized that wasn’t going to happen, he called Chris Friel, who agreed to bring his Chris Friel Orchestra (featuring Kim Virant on vocals). He then reached out to Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, who agreed to play with his band, Brad, if Nordstrom would consider his ideas on sustainability and reducing the retailer’s carbon footprint. Done.

Things started falling into place. Rachel Flotard of Visqueen, a new mother, signed on. Carrie Akre agreed to play, as did Pete Droge. Producer Johnny Sangster signed on his Sangster Family Band and The Young Evils filled out the bill.

Nordstrom is bankrolling most of the event, and happy to do it. But he imagines an annual event, with sponsors, starting next year.

I asked about Chet, and Nordstrom’s strong face softened.

“Oh, he’s the greatest,” he said. “The sweetest. I hate to say ‘easy,’ but it’s true.”

To hear Chet’s story, though, it’s clear it was anything but that.

Nordstrom recalled how he and his wife, Brandy (they also have a two-year-old daughter, Micki), went for an ultrasound at 24 weeks.

“You need to come back tomorrow,” the doctor said.

A week later, they were told of the diagnosis, and began their journey through doctor’s offices, operating rooms and long stays at the hospital.

Nordstrom got up and grabbed an iPad to show me a picture of a tiny boy in a hospital bed beside a hulking wall of 23 blinking monitors.

“That’s just brutal,” he said, his voice tight.

Chet spent six weeks at Children’s after his surgery.

More pictures. His parents, his wife. His daughter, Micki, her arm around her baby brother.

“The prognosis is positive,” Nordstrom said. “As of now, the feeling is he should be pretty good. We are feeling really grateful and hopeful. There are no guarantees when you have kids.”

When things started to settle down, Nordstrom felt moved to do something for the people who cared for Chet — and for those who can’t afford the kind of treatment he received.

“They provide incredibly state-of-the-art capabilities for health care,” he said of Children’s. “And the soft side of what they do is provide hope. They give you a sense of confidence that they can handle this.

“But there are so many people out there without the means to have any of that.”

Nordstrom certainly has means, but he has also worked all his life.

He started in the store’s stockroom at age 12. He started selling shoes at 16 and worked summers while attending the University of Washington. At 21, he decided to join the family business and is now the President of Merchandising.

Nordstrom is also one of three “insiders” (with his father, Bruce and his brother, Erik) who sit on the corporate board.

He is also one of just four fourth-generation Nordstroms (there are 35, he said) to be involved in the family business.

“I like it,” he said. “It’s important for me to work, be a stand-up guy and be accountable. The thing I don’t like is the amount of travel.”

Nordstrom and his brother, Erik, are part of the investor group that joined Chris Hansen to build a new sports arena, and bring a professional basketball team back to Seattle.

“There are better things to invest in if you’re just trying to make money,” Nordstrom said. “But the reason I’m involved is to enable that community asset.”

With SMooCH, he is trying to create yet another asset. For the community, from his heart.

“It’s not about me and it’s not about Chet,” he said. “It’s about helping people in the community. And if you can do it, then you should.”

Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or

In a previous version of this column about Peter Nordstrom, Blake Nordstrom was erroneously listed as his father. Peter Nordstrom's father is Bruce Nordstrom.

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