In the heart of Little Norway

Photo: Kelsey Larson

Photo: Kelsey Larson

The Nordic Maid offers a wonderful world of  Scandinavian items

Norwegian cheese slicers to Australia, Swedish welcome lights to Japan, Norwegian troll figurines to Hungary, and Swedish door harps to Saudi Arabia; it’s safe to say the Nordic Maid has shipped just about every Scandinavian good just about everywhere.

“Sometimes I feel like a shipping clerk,” says Julie Snouwaert, co-owner of the Nordic Maid gift shop in Poulsbo, Wash.

The Nordic Maid is a Scandinavian specialties gift shop located in the heart of “Little Norway,” on Poulsbo’s main drag, Front Street, within a stones’ throw of many other Scandinavian-themed destinations: Sluy’s Bakery, the Marina Market and a brand-new tattoo parlor called “Thor’s Hammer and Needle,” to name a few.

The shop came about when Carson’s Drug Store in downtown Poulsbo closed. The drugstore had a small Scandinavian section, and Jeanne Snouwaert and Julie Elsner had helped keep it stocked. But they noticed a market in Poulsbo for a store that went beyond a few Scandinavian items, one that specialized in such goods.

“I said to Jeanne, ‘Why don’t we play store for a couple of years?’” said Snouwaert. That was back in 1996. A “couple of years” turned into a way of life for the two women. The Nordic Maid has just celebrated its 15th anniversary.

“We have a really good customer base,” said Snouwaert, “We’ve become a destination store.” In the summers especially, Poulsbo attracts many tourists. “We’ve had customers from all over the world,” she said.

Snouwaert and Elsner do not, however, attribute the shop’s success exclusively to its many tourist visitors. They also give credit to a large group of faithful local customers.

“We have a good core local base in the Kitsap County area,” says Snouwaert. “And a lot of day-trippers from Seattle. We have customers that we think of as family.”

Norwegian-Americans will be proud to know that they are well represented as a customer base for the little store. When it comes to people with Scandinavian heritage entering the store, the winners are “by far, Norwegian-Americans. Swedes come next, then the Finns, then the Danes.” Also of note are Icelandic-American customers. “British Columbia has a large population of Icelanders,” says Snouwaert.

What does the store carry? Well, just about everything. Snouwaert and Elsner deal with over 75 suppliers in the U.S. and Scandinavia. Merchandise includes but is not limited to: Royal Copenhagen and Porsgrund collector’s plates; Fjord Design pewter flatware; Henning Engelsen carvings; Skadi, Gjestal, Dale of Norway and Norlender sweaters; Bethany and Bjorklund kitchenware; Lidberg trolls; and of course, lefse griddles and krumkake irons.

“The cooking part of anyone’s heritage is the thing they hold onto the longest,” Snouwaert says, giving her theory for the reason that the Nordic Maid does so well selling lefse baking supplies, cook books, and other cooking or baking related items.

The Nordic Maid has also sold their wares to some interesting clients. They’ve sold Viking helmets to British TV companies and Hollywood and their Swedish Lucia crowns to various filmmaking companies. They even sold chime candles for their Swedish angel chimes to Martha Stewart.

Despite such success, however, the Nordic Maid is dealing with hard economic times, just like any other business. Shipping costs are way up, and suppliers are not carrying a lot of inventory. If a supplier doesn’t fill a container, they won’t ship it, which, on occasion, makes it difficult for the Nordic Maid to fill orders.

They’ve also struggled when it comes to outsourcing. “We call Estonia ‘Eastern Sweden,’” says Snouwaert, referring to the fact that many jobs have left Scandinavia for the allure of cheaper costs in countries like Estonia, China and India. Snouwaert says she and Elsner work hard so that they can get as many items imported from Scandinavia as possible. “We work really hard to get the sweaters from Norway,” she adds. Norwegian sweater-makers have moved production en masse to other countries. Snouwaert tells a story about when Elsner was in Norway, and she asked a merchant about a Norwegian sweater for sale. “It was made in China, with Australian wool,” Snouwaert laughs. These are just the sorts of sweaters they work to avoid in the Nordic Maid, though it has become more and more difficult.

Snouwaert and Elsner both have strong connections to Scandinavia. Their grandparents on both their fathers’ sides were Swedish immigrants who came to the Poulsbo area.

“One thing I credit the shop for was my decision to visit the Scandinavian countries,” says Elsner. “We made two trips and just enjoyed them so much.  We were able to visit the towns where my grandparents had lived and see the church where my great-grandparents were married.”

Though Snouwaert has yet to visit the Scandinavian countries, she agrees with Elsner when it comes to running the Nordic Maid: that it is a more than apt way to celebrate their heritage, even if it can be a struggle. “I think that’s why you have any job; for the challenge,” Snouwaert says.

For more information, visit www.nordicmaid.com or call (877) 355-5791.

This article is part of our new series “Scandinavian Store Spotlight.” Would you like your favorite store to be highlighted? Call us at (800) 305-0217 or email naw@norway.com.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 16, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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