After 15 years of fits and starts and location scouting, Nordstrom Inc. plans to open its second store in the Twin Cities area. The Seattle-based retailer said Friday that it has signed a letter of intent to open a store at Ridgedale Center in Minnetonka in 2011.

But even that announcement came with some fits and starts.

Early Friday, a spokesman for the upscale department store chain said that the company planned to tear down one of two Macy's stores at Ridgedale and convert the space into a 172,000-square-foot Nordstrom. But later in the day, Macy's said that it hadn't agreed to close or move out of either one of its Ridgedale stores. The company operates a women's and children's store, as well as a men's and home location in different areas of the mall.

Nordstrom then retracted its statement about demolishing Macy's, calling the comment "premature," and said only that it planned to open a store at Ridgedale -- location to be determined.

Confusion aside, just that Nordstrom, which has 101 department stores nationwide with 23 more to open by 2012, has signed a letter of intent in this market is a breakthrough event. Nordstrom opened in 1992 at the Mall of America (and also has a Rack outlet there), and it has been scouting other locations since that time. The company has been rumored to be looking in downtown Minneapolis, and it had planned to go into a Maple Grove mall that was never built.

Historically, rival department stores have been known to try to shut out Nordstrom, for fear of losing customers to the upscale chain.

This fear partly explains why Macy's still has two stores at Ridgedale. In 1995, in a move widely seen as an effort to keep Nordstrom out of Ridgedale, Dayton Hudson Corp. snatched up a Carson Pirie Scott location at the mall and converted it to a Dayton's, now Macy's. Nordstrom at the time was said to be interested in the location.

"They gobbled that up right away just to keep Nordstrom from competing," said Richard Grones, founder of Cambridge Commercial Realty in Edina.

But consolidation in the department store industry has given Nordstrom an opening.

In 2004, May Department Stores Co. of St. Louis bought and closed nine Mervyn's stores in the Twin Cities as part of its $3.2 billion purchase of Marshall Field's from Target Corp. One of the closed Mervyn's was at Southdale Center in Edina, which began courting Nordstrom to fill the space.

Soon after, Macy's acquired May and all the Marshall Field's stores and, in late 2006, converted the Marshall Field's stores to Macy's. Jim McComb, a Minneapolis retail consultant, said the idea of a Macy's and a Nordstrom store in the same mall no longer seems untenable, because they appeal to different customers.

"Nordstrom's has sort of inherited the position that Dayton's and Marshall Field's has held in the Twin Cities," McComb said.

However, it remains unclear how the two retailers will coexist. One idea being discussed is that Macy's would close both stores in Ridgedale and open a new one nearby, said Grones, who is familiar with the discussions. The new Macy's would be linked to Ridgedale by a series of outside stores and restaurants, he said.

However, Frank Guzzetta, chairman of Macy's North, the division that oversees Macy's Midwest operations, said no such plans have been approved. "They can't move in until we move, and we haven't agreed to move," he said. "No one has signed anything."

Guzzetta said he would have preferred that Nordstrom open a store in downtown Minneapolis, which is struggling with rising retail vacancies. An active downtown booster, Guzzetta has urged city officials, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, to help Nordstrom find a location downtown.

"Anyplace that Nordstrom goes would strengthen the locale," he said. "I just think it would help everyone more if they came downtown."

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308