Retail therapy in Rochester

Shopping the “Minnesota Scandinavian Nice” way

retail therapy in Rochester

Photo courtesy of The Nordic Shop
The Nordic Shop is in the Shops at University Square in downtown Rochester, Minn., across from the Mayo Clinic, and caters to both medical tourists and locals.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Retail therapy? Huh. As one who hates crowds, shopping in New York, where I live, is not something I relish. It is a battle. How can that be therapeutic? Yet, I know lots of folks who turn around a bad day with a shopping spree.

On the other hand, I have had many blissful moments of perusing textiles and handcrafted items from different cultures while traveling. I idle away the minutes, touching, smelling, and admiring sui generis baubles. Delighting in how displays are curated often leads to daydreaming—a meditative practice—and the pleasure of exploring experientially provides a unique soothing sensory sensation.

I decided to see if there was any science to back up the possibility that buying can boost health. A 2013 article in in Psychology Today by Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., “Why Retail Therapy Works,” notes that they would not deem shopping in and of itself a therapy, but that it does provide five positive benefits:

1. Easing transitions—such as expunging the old and bringing in something fresh after a break up.

2. Dressing for success—buying clothes that add to one’s confidence.

3. Pleasure boost of creativity and aesthetics—

shopping as an experiential pleasure.

4. Relaxation and escape—as one daydreams while window or online shopping.

5. Social connection.

“Since we’ve been gathering as humans, we’ve gone to the marketplace to connect with other people,” Yarrow adds.

Another publication discussed how retail therapy allows one to feel in control when everything else seems out of control, which in turn diminishes anxiety.

retail therapy in Rochester

Photo courtesy of The Nordic Shop
Walter, Louise, and Haakon (center) Hanson in their shop.

If you think you’d like to engage in this healthy pastime Scandinavian-style, I would strongly suggest The Nordic Shop in Rochester, Minn. Even if you are not undergoing treatment, it may very well be worth a trip there, or you can take a journey via the internet or telephone.

Do you miss the old glory days of customer service? The Nordic Shop will bring back your faith. The staff is very knowledgeable: they can answer how a Royal Copenhagen mega-plate is hand-painted, what the current Oleana colors are, and how a Dale of Norway sweater should fit. Personal shopping assistants are available by phone or email.

And shoppers come from all corners of the world. Each year, thousands of patients and accompanying family members come to Rochester’s world-renowned Mayo Clinic, and The Nordic Shop is there for them with its unique approach to customer service.

Owner Walter Hanson III explains: “From our first day in business, we realized that our Mayo customers were there for a short length of time and that it would be nice to keep that contact with them, so we started doing mail order.… We have found that once we have customers who stay with us, we even get passed down to the next generation.”

I had a chance to talk shop with Hanson in depth about how Scandinavians aesthetics and goods resonate with the public to provide genuine, comforting retail therapy.

Victoria Hofmo: Can you tell me about why and when you opened The Nordic Shop?

Walter Hanson: In 1974, two young people [myself and my partner in business and in life, Louise Hanson] with degrees in architecture, art, communications, and an abroad program in Copenhagen, decided to start a business. A shop was opened in the Kahler Hotel, located just around the corner from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. We brought good Scandinavian design to the marketplace in a way that had not been done before. Products were marketed along with the history of the company, the stories of the designs, and an explanation of how they were made.

VH: How do you decide what to carry?

WH: Back in the early days, we focused on bringing in all the iconic brands from Scandinavia and items used in the home: dinnerware, flatware, cookware, glassware, and artware. We were forever visiting the various factories and studios that our products came from to learn how the things were made, why they were designed the way they were, etc. That knowledge made us experts in the Scandinavian lines we carry.

VH: I see that you carry high-quality textiles from both Dale of Norway and Oleana. Can you speak about these products?

WH: Originally, we carried only two small spiral racks of sweaters, but over time that grew and grew to where we are the largest purveyor of Scandinavian wearables in the U.S. We still also handle many wonderful housewares products from Scandinavia.

Clothing is a very personal thing people feel strongly about. Scandinavia has never been a “throw-away society.” Maybe that is why Scandinavian things are still highly sought after. Even clothing must do its intended job and be as environmentally responsible as possible.

VH: Who are your customers?

WH: We have never thought that they should or even needed to be Scandinavian. In Rochester we find two types of customers: “medical tourists,” as the Mayo Clinic’s [proximity] brings in patients from all around the globe, and our town/area customers, who are always with us. [These two populations] make Rochester a stable environment. We don’t see big ups or downs because of trends, etc.

Our store has always had a friendly and “hygge” feel to it, even before the term became such a buzzword. We care more about how our customers are doing, where they have been, how their kids are, etc. I think that it helped that we each grew up in small towns and had families in small business.

VH: How important is organization and display to the customer’s experience?

WH: We have a mix of sleek modern display fixtures from Denmark that blend with a variety of Scandinavian antiques to create a unique Scandinavian feel.

You can’t escape winter when you are here. It comes in the late fall and leaves in mid spring. We actually celebrate the cold with events like Winterfest and Social Ice, which provides fantastic ice sculptures and amazing ice bars. The largest is the St. Paul Ice Carnival, complete with its Ice Castle. We don’t stop enjoying ourselves when the temps go down. “There is no bad weather… only bad clothing.” Having great clothing from Dale, Helly Hansen, Fjällräven, and others makes it fun to be outdoors and enjoy the best of nature, no matter what the temperature.

VH: Winter is important, but everyone yearns for spring and a fresh beginning. What new items will you carry for spring?

WH: We are very excited this year with the new products from Helly Hansen, Fjällräven, and Dale of Norway. [From Dale] we will have a very special limited-issue sweater for sale, which is part of the 140th anniversary celebration, which we have the honor of debuting in the United States. Not everyone will get one. However, for the lucky ones, we’ll have a true piece of history from Dale. We can’t really say any more. Look for us to debut in the beginning of May, just in time for Syttende Mai.

VH: Do you think that retail therapy works?

WH: For us, it is welcoming our Mayo Clinic guests into our store and giving them a small taste of Scandinavia. There are always Scandinavian goodies that we have for tasting and what we call our “quiet corner,” where we have all our Scandinavian books.

Our staff is naturally welcoming and genuinely want to know where the customer is from, how their stay is going, if we can help in any way, etc. We find ourselves to be more concierge than sales people. I think that is what puts so many people at ease when they come into the store. There is also that “discovery” that many people have of a small piece of Scandinavia right here in front of them—something that they weren’t expecting.

We know that a person is in the Mayo Clinic for only about 20 percent of their time in Rochester. That is why we try to be a place for people to come in and spend some time. Our “Minnesota Scandinavian Nice” atmosphere has made it a place that they want to come back to each time they are in Rochester. For us, that is “retail therapy”—no purchase necessary!

As a final word of caution, I don’t recommend that you “shop till you drop,” as overspending is a known cause of stress, which could require an entirely different type of therapy. However, in this digital age, humans long for tactile experiences and human contact. Outstanding customer service serves as a human connector and educator—in this way, retail therapy can soothe and satiate.

The Nordic Shop is a perfect fit to experience this healthy pastime, whether you drop by, shop online, or check out their blog. Here it is easy to behave like a child in a sweet shop, with all its delights for the senses.

Located on the Skyway Level in the Shops at University Square in downtown Rochester across from the Mayo Clinic, The Nordic Shop is conveniently open seven days and five nights a week. Visit their website at, or call them at (507) 285-9143.

This article originally appeared in the February 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.