A visit inside the Mall of Norway
Wallet beware: this Norwegian souvenir store has something for everyone
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
The picturesque village of Flåm in the heart of western Norway’s fjord country sees a steady stream of tourists coming in with the popular Norway in a Nutshell tour from Bergen, about 1.4 million of them annually.
Some stay for a day or two, others just a few hours before hopping on the Flåm Railway. While there is plenty to do in the village with the Railway Museum and the historic Fretheim Hotel, many are looking for mementos from their trip.
That gave the brothers Steinar and Torstein Wangen an idea: why not offer them everything Norwegian they ever dreamed of right there in Flåm?
In 1994, the two brothers became partners in Saga Souvenir, which would eventually become the Mall of Norway. Today it is a 100 percent family-owned and -run business that carries an inventory of thousands and thousands of items. The Flåm flagship store occupies 7,532 square feet of retail space, and there are four other branch stores along the west coast in Voss, Aurland, Norheimsund, and Ålesund. While 82-year-old Torstein is still in the Flåm store five days a week, Steinar’s sons Stivar and Kyrre now run the business. In recent years, the retailer has grown by leaps and bounds with a new Internet presence, and there are no signs of stopping.
I did my homework online before visiting the store in person, but somehow one cannot be fully prepared for the scope of Norwegian wares available: this store is stocked to the hilt. There is so much to see and explore that you could spend several days there instead of a few hours. In my case, it helped to have checked out the online shop in advance, because there were things I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss.
For most Norwegian Americans, the ultimate souvenir is a traditional Norwegian sweater, and the store has an entire wall and several racks devoted to them. When I arrived at the mall, I was greeted by the two store clerks on duty, Simona Andriu and Wojciech Wisniewski. They pointed me to Dale of Norway, the most popular brand with Americans, and I was impressed by the variety of designs and styles available. The We Norwegians line is a bit more hip, and there are many more lines to choose from. If you leave the Mall of Norway without a Norwegian sweater, then you really didn’t want a Norwegian sweater.
But if the price tag for a sweater seems too steep, there many other items to consider: fleece jackets, sweatshirts, hoodies, and T-shirts, many of which have Norwegian flag, patterns, or silk-screening for you to remember your trip. If you are looking for something less in your face, you will find things of good Scandinavian design and the Nordic palette. There is also a huge selection of knitwear available for children, including the beloved Marius line with its classic designs from the 1950s.
I was particularly attracted to knitwear accessories, hats, woolen scarves with colorful artistic designs, and even Selbu mittens. There are hundreds of items of various styles and colors to choose from, some made by local artists from Flåm. With a wide price range, any tourist unprepared for the chilling winds will be able to get outfitted. The same goes for rainwear and jackets: the selection is immense. The well-known Helly Hansen line is, of course, very popular, and even more upscale stylish rainwear designs including Blæst Rainwear can be found. The latter brand is not easily obtained outside of Norway, like many items at the Mall of Norway. Even for those that can be bought online, it is fun to see and touch the fabrics in person and try them on for fit.
But hands down, the most popular brand of all is Scandinavian Explorer, a line of down jackets available in all colors of the rainbow. They are both lightweight and warm, and best of all, the price point is very accessible at NOK 795. I asked my partners in crime Andriu and Wisniewski to model them for me. They picked out the bestsellers, Shiny Old Pink for women, and the Norwegian Red-White-and-Blue for men. At age 29, they both looked adorable, but when they got me in a longer champagne jacket, I knew I had found the one for me. I love the texture and sheen of the jacket, which is both practical and stylish.
I got to talking with Andriu and Wisniewski about the clientele at the Mall of Norway and which brands beyond Dale and Scandinavian Explorer were bestsellers. Both immediately mentioned Fjällräven backpacks from Sweden and ECCO shoes from Denmark. Some tourists come to Flåm unprepared for the terrain or decide to go on hiking, biking, or boating excursions and need to pick up some more gear. In recent years, there has been an increase in tourists from China, and they often don’t know exactly what to expect once they arrive in Norway. I heard the story of the Chinese lady who set out on a mountain excursion in a pair of stilettos, stylish but not exactly practical: the perfect candidate for a pair of solid, comfortable shoes or boots.
Neither Andriu nor Wisniewski speak fluent Norwegian, which doesn’t seem to be of consequence since most visitors to the Flåm come from other countries anyway. We carried on our conversation in English, and I learned that Andriu is from Lithuania, and Wisniewski is from Poland. After Andriu finished her studies in business and marketing back home, she wanted to spend some time abroad and responded to job advertisement on the web. Wisniewski first came to Norway to visit his Polish girlfriend who was already working in Flåm and stumbled into the Mall of Norway to buy a postcard. The manager noticed that he had a Polish accent and asked him if he would like to work there, so he decided to stay for love and has been there for nine years.
I asked Andriu to show me some of the luxury items in store, and she pointed me to the jewelry section. Here you can find rare varieties of amber set in Norwegian designs with price tags upwards of NOK 200,000. They were beautiful, but even NOK 20,000 would be too expensive for me, so I checked out the costume jewelry by Nora Norway and Mountain Beads Norway that can be added to a Pandora bracelet. I would also have liked to purchase a fur shawl by the exclusive Erik Garthus design house in Oslo. I am putting it on my wish list for next Christmas so I can save up and order off the Web if I’m unable to come back to Norway before then.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are lower-end items and downright kitsch: magnets, kitchen gadgets, shot glasses, mugs, pens, baseballs caps, Viking helmets and horns, just about anything you can think of, mostly made in China with Norwegian design. Many are stamped with Norwegian flags or marked with the word “NORWAY”—all in good fun. I found some nice stationary printed with Edvard Munch’s “Scream,” and to my even greater delight, I even found tiny Edvard Grieg music boxes that would crank out the melodies of “Morning Mood” or “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” There was also a nice selection of coffee-table books with scenes from Norway, as well as children’s books with fairy tales and Viking lore, which would make excellent gifts for my Norwegian-American friends back home.
And there are the trolls, trolls of every variety imaginable: skiing trolls, knitting trolls, fishing trolls, kissing trolls, patriotic trolls, two-headed trolls, multi-headed trolls. While the troll has a special place in the Norwegian landscape and folklore, it is, after all, somehow the quintessential Norwegian souvenir. Most popular are the cast rubber variety for their durability and ease of transport. At the mall, there is a troll in every size and price range, and if you if decide you can’t live without one of the bigger ones, they will gladly ship it to you. The other good news is that the shop is set up with forms for you to shop tax-free with savings of 12 percent. Be sure you have read through the instructions for getting this money back before leaving the country.
As I left the Mall of Norway with my beautiful new Scandinavian Explorer jacket, I kept thinking about all I’d seen there. I wished I could go back to look around some more, but I realized that I was in luck: most of the inventory is available online at www.mallofnorway.com and the shop is prepared to ship more or less anywhere in the world. And as Wisniewski told me, most customers who have been to the store in Flåm become repeat customers online.
The Mall of Norway is the ultimate Norwegian souvenir store with something for everyone, be it an exclusive amber necklace or as in the case of Wojciech Wisniewski, a simple postcard for NOK 5. It may not change your life like it did his, but a visit there, be it in Flåm or online, will certainly be a fun and satisfying shopping experience.
Visit the Mall of Norway online at www.mallofnorway.com.
For more information about tourist opportunities in Flåm, visit www.visitflam.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.