Farvel, Nordic Maid

Longtime downtown Poulsbo business is closing as owner retires

POULSBO — “We’re not saying we’re going out of business,” shop owner Jeanne Snouwaert said. “That sounds like you’ve failed.”

Clearly, after more than two decades in the same downtown location of 18954 Front St., the Nordic Maid didn’t fail. In fact, after years of successfully serving the community, Snouwaert is ready to retire.

Snouwaert, 73, said she wants to focus on traveling, reading and yard work.

“I’m way past retirement age,” she said. “And retail is a hard business.”

Especially for the specialty Scandinavian shop, which serves locals and tourists alike.

The family-run business originally started as the gift shop at Carson’s Rexall Drug, Poulsbo’s drug store in the 1950-60s. It was called “Scandinavian Country Home” then, and was run by Snouwaert’s older sister, Julie Elsner. It quickly gained popularity downtown.

On May 9, 1996, the sister duo opened up their own shop and the Nordic Maid was born. The store has served those of Scandinavian heritage and interest since.

When reflecting on the importance of culture in her family, Snouwaert looked to her Swedish immigrant grandparents.

“At Christmas, we always celebrated our Scandinavian heritage,” she said. “I always had great respect for my grandparents; they were hard workers.”

Nowadays, Snouwaert is running the shop on her own.

Elsner passed away in 2011, and Snouwaert’s husband passed away in 2015.

“Last summer, I thought about [closing the shop],” she said. “But I wasn’t quite ready to let it go.”

After another round in the retail holiday season, Snouwaert said she’s “so ready.”

Even with the help of longtime friend Kathy Sagdahl and grand-nephew Cameron Sabo (who have been working at the shop for a combined 29.5 years), it’s tough.

“From January through April is really hard,” she said of meeting the $2,600 monthly overhead, payroll and keeping inventory stocked.

“But we have a good fall and a gangbuster November and December,” she said. “That carries us through the next four months.”

The shop sells roughly 400 welcome lights per holiday season. Books, T-shirts and sweaters are also popular sellers.

But where will shoppers go to purchase their “I Love Lefsa” pins, Scandinavian sweaters and bunads?

“That’s a good question,” Snouwaert replied.

She said she tried to sell her business, but “it just didn’t work out.” In fact, Snouwaert had two potential buyers, but business turnover downtown and lease regulations compelled them to turn away.

Regarding the loss of the specialty shop in downtown, Snouwaert said, “It’s not good.”

She has been working with other downtown businesses to see if they might help carry some of those Scandinavian specialties.

“I’ve talked with Marina Market about carrying the specialty food items,” she said. “I’ve also talked with Bri at Barna & Co to see about carrying children’s Scandinavian-themed clothes and books.”

Snouwaert, who has seen a lot of downtown businesses come and go, said if anyone was interested in starting up another Scandinavian shop, she would be available to consult.

“I want to see another one come in,” she said.

As Snouwaert reflected on the attributes critical to the success of a business on Front Street, she elaborated on the importance of customer service.

“Location, location, location,” she laughed. “But customer service is a lot of it. You have to engage and talk with your customers. We always had fun here in the shop.”

Sabo, who has worked with the shop for the past 9.5 years, said he was sad to see the family business go.

“It’s a family-run business that’s been in Poulsbo a long time,” he said.

Sandahl (who also began her retail career at Carson’s Rexall Drug) embraces the opportunity for a slower pace of life.

“I look forward to sleeping in and doing what I want,” she said.

But as an employee of the Nordic Maid for 20 years, she added, “It’s a double-edged sword. I’ve always enjoyed working here. It’s been a home away from home.”

Snouwaert said customers are sad to see them go, but the shop has had an outpouring of customers with good wishes.

All shop inventory is 25 percent off, and fixtures are also for sale. The Nordic Maid’s last day is July 29.

So stop in and say “Takk for sist,” (or “Thanks for the last time” in Norwegian).

— Sophie Bonomi is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Contact her at sbonomi@soundpublishing.com.