Nordstrom's Department Store opened its doors at the Cherry Hill Mall today, seeking to defy an economic downturn with upscale appeal.

As the 10 a.m. opening approached, more than 100 Nordstrom employees lined the sides of the aisle leading to the mall entrance, sending up a cheer with one side yelling "customer," the other answering with "Service."

Shoppers started entering the store even before its metal gate was up, ducking under to be among the first inside.

Eileen Kolber, of Marlton, was at the front of the pack. She said she's always been first in line, from getting a Cabbage Patch Kid to buying the latest Transformer toy for her son.

She came to shop for shoes, she said, perusing a display of spangled, strappy heels.

Within an hour, the store had already sold a half-dozen pricey handbags, including a $1,795 silvery leather Burberry Covington, a $1,585 Chloe Paddington, and a $1,395 Burberry Lawrence with raffia quilting.

"I bought some eyelashes. I have them on," said Lauren Houck, 25, of Cherry Hill, a Rutgers-Camden grad living with her parents between jobs.

Shopping with her mom, Maria, Lauren declined a pair of bright pink pumps, because her foot showed a bit of a bulge above the toes - "toe fat" or "toe cleavage," she said.

"If anyone knows how to get rid of it, give me a call," she said.

The shoe box in Cynthia Quinton's arms at a checkout line held a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse sneaks.

"There are green Chucks, apple green Chucks," said the Moorestown resident, lifting the lid.

She plans to wear them "everywhere, all the time" - except, of course, at work. She's vice president of development at Symphony in C, formerly the Haddonfield Symphony - one of three nonprofits that benefited from a Nordstrom gala Wednesday night.

Nordstrom president Blake Nordstrom was pleased with the enthusiastic turnout - an estimated 1,500 in the first hour, according to a spokeswoman.

Seattle-based Norstrom sold shoes for more than 60 years, before adding apparel in 1963.

It's been expanding ever since - and plans to continue the pace, he said.

"The good news is there is still plenty of opportunity," he said.

The retailer now has 110 stores in 28 states, with two more slated to open this year in Ohio and Massachusetts. Delaware's Christiana Mall will also get one in 2011, according to nordstrom.com.

The chain had considered Cherry Hill about nine years ago, but the mall seemed "run down," Nordstrom said.

"The developers, to their credit, invested a lot of money, and it was that catalyst, if you will, that gave us the confidence to come and open the store."

Philadelphia Real Estate Investment Trust put more than $200 million into refurbishing the mall, adding restaurants and more than a dozen other new stores.

Norstrom brothers Peter, head of merchandising, and Erik, director of stores, were also on hand this morning, because "you gotta stay close to the customer," Blake Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom's business philosophy is an "upside-down pyramid," he said, valuing customers and sales staff the most.

"Our job," he said of the management team, "has to be to listen and support our troops."

"It's fun, and girls like to have fun," said Kathy Mauro, 50, of Marlton at the pre-opening cosmetics consultation party called "Beauty Bash." "It's a great place to get together with girlfriends, have lunch and enjoy the new styles and the customer service."

Mauro came with a half-dozen friends and her sister, and said she had been looking forward to the opening for months.

No longer will the chain's South Jersey fans have to the trek on the Schuylkill Expressway to the area's other store.

The Cherry Hill store has 138,000 square feet, which is smaller than King of Prussia, but it's still an impressive array of consumer goods, including 2,000 mens dress shirts and 1,000 neckties, according to Nicole Pietromonaco, a store spokeswoman.

Her nose and cheeks covered with white makeup at the Beauty Bash, Sewell's Lauren Kareha, 25, said she came because she loves the upscale retailer and needs to "start building up my summer wardrobe."

"It's just a great store. They have very helpful employees. They have a great selection of products," Kareha said.

SEPTA bus driver John Henderson, 49, said he came over from Philadelphia to be with his girlfriend.

"Whatever she wants to do today," he said, adding he didn't plan to buy anything for himself.

Deanna Batiste, 28, Henderson's girlfriend and also a bus driver, said she came over for the cosmetic demonstrations.

"All women like free things," Batiste said.