Inside Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace
This Minn. destination is more than a store
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
Recently, I had the good fortune to travel to Minneapolis, where I quickly learned that no trip is complete without at least one visit to Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace. Located at the corner of East Lake Street and 16th Avenue South since 1921, it has been a popular destination store for the Scandinavian-American community for nearly a century.
Visitors come to Ingebretsen’s from far and wide, from every corner of the United States, even from Europe and other continents. And these days, it’s not just Nordic types who make the trip. Curious Latinos and other immigrants wander in to see what another culture brought to their neighborhood.
As you approach the storefront, you will know that you’ve arrived when you see the Swedish kurbits folk art mural painting on the façade of the building with traditional motifs from the province of Dalecarlia. You begin to be drawn into another world deeply rooted in Minneapolis history.
Employees at Ingebretsen’s maintain that going to work there doesn’t feel like going to a job: it’s more like a social gathering—and from all that I observed, this seems to be true. As soon as you enter, you are embraced by the store’s cozy ambience. There is always a smiling face to greet you, as well as a good cup of fresh coffee. It’s very welcoming.
I was met by Julie Ingebretsen, whose grandfather, Charles Ingebretsen Sr., started it all 98 years ago. An immigrant from Norway at the turn of the century, he trained to become a butcher in Fargo, N.D., and then moved to Minneapolis to open the Model Meat Market right there on East Lake Street. The shop eventually evolved into Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace as we know it today.
With its convenient location on a streetcar line, the store was a thriving business from the start. Charles Jr. started managing the store after World War II. At that time, the demographics of the neighborhood began to shift, and second-generation Nordics started moving to the suburbs. Immigrants from other countries began to move in, and the neighborhood became less Scandinavian, but Ingebretsen’s stayed.
Over the years, there have been ups and downs, but the store has managed to adapt to change. In 1973, Charles Jr. and a partner bought the building and made the decision to add the gift items. His daughter, Julie, had studied math and science and done some teaching, but was still searching for her niche. She found her forte at Ingebretsen’s, and under her creative management the store has grown to carry over 1,000 unique gift items.
While the focus is on tradition at Ingebretsen’s, it’s definitely not an anachronistic or fuddy-duddy presentation of the Nordic cultures. There are a large number of contemporary items included in the inventory, representative of the clean aesthetic in the Scandinavian countries today. There is an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship in an inventory that contains items across a broad range of price points.
You can purchase ceramic and wooden decorative items, yarn and wool, books, toys, games, kitchenware, tableware, clothing, handmade crafts, and a variety of Viking and Scandihoovian souvenirs in good fun. Throughout the year, special items are brought in for the various holidays: Christmas, Easter, Midsummer, and the various national days. As would be expected, mail order and e-commerce is always booming around the holidays, especially at Christmastime.
But Ingebretsen’s is not only about shopping: it is also a cultural center where you can come to learn about your heritage. There is a room set up for classes in crafts, culture, knitting, needlework, and even genealogy. At Norway House, a short drive away on East Franklin St., cooking classes are offered on a regular basis. I managed to fit in a class on how to make a kransekake and put my new skills into practice back at home with success.
Ingebretsen’s operates a second gift shop at Norway House, called Also Ingebretsen’s, with an emphasis on Norwegian items, of course. There is also a third boutique in Stockholm, Wis., a charming tourist town located on the Mississippi River, another destination for any Scandinavian-American Midwest traveler.
And then there is the food. The meat market and deli section of the store has everything any Scandinavian chef could possibly need: meats, sausages, fish products, pickled herring, imported cheeses, and much more. This section of the store is owned and run by another family, but all in the tradition of Farfar Ingebretsen.
If all this is not enough, Ingebretsen’s offers a travel program to the Scandinavian countries two to three times a year. But not to worry, if you can’t afford a trip to Europe, the store also celebrates community festivals throughout the year for cultural enrichment. Each July, a big chunk of Lake Street is closed off for July Streets on one of the weekends. This year, the store set up a game of kubb on the street, a fish toss, fun photo ops, and Iced Biking Viking Coffee, one of their specialties.
But running a successful business does not come without a lot of dedication and hard work. Throughout the years, the family has stuck together to keep things going. Julie shared with me that the family has had soul-searching conversations about the future of the store. Her daughter Anna is very involved, specializing in artistic display of the vast inventory, and her granddaughter has already shown a strong interest. Overall, there is a commitment to carry on for new generations, keeping and renewing treasured traditions.
For me, my summer stops at Ingebretsen’s felt a bit like Christmas in July, full of sights and smells to warm the heart of any Scandinavian American. There was so much that I wanted to look at and buy for my home. I only wish that I lived a little closer, but fortunately, I can visit www.ingebretsens.com to get my fix. I am now one of their 15,000+ followers on Facebook, and I enjoy reading their blog with its mix of Scandinavian history and humor.
Whether in person or in the virtual world, Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace somehow offers its visitors a fun, effortless way to get on touch with their roots, and as the rainbow sign at the front entrance says, “Everyone is welcome.”
Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.