Tiny East Side gift shop closing after more than 60 years


file photo • Sandeen describes the items at the shop as things you’d find at “grandma’s house” — traditional decorations and gifts.

Marjorie Otto/Review • Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts, the tiny gift shop on the corner of White Bear and Ivy avenues, will be closing after more than 60 years of selling gifts and crafts on the East Side.

file photo • Kay Sandeen began running Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts 10 years ago after her parents passed away. The shop, which is located in the basement of the home that Sandeen grew up in, was a dream of her mother’s, who studied and taught Scandinavian arts and crafts.

Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts will close at the end of August

 

Running her parents’ shop wasn’t necessarily a part of her life’s plan, but Kay Sandeen took the opportunity and ran with it for a decade. And she says it’s been a blast. 

Sandeen’s Scandinavian Gifts, on the corner of White Bear and Ivy avenues, has been there for more than 60 years, but Sandeen will be closing at the end of August, packing up her things and moving across the country to Virginia to live closer to her sister.

During a recent afternoon while Sandeen, 73, sorted items and attended to a few customers, she reflected on the history of her family’s shop. 

 

Unique for its time

The shop was her mother’s dream. Sandeen says Mom studied and taught Scandinavian crafts and found that there were few shops that specialized in such goods in the early 1950s. Sandeen’s father helped her create the shop and after he retired, he joined her there. 

The shop opened in 1955. Sandeen says her dad designed the family home with the 450-square-foot shop in the basement, and contracted it out to be built. Sandeen moved into the home after her parents passed away.

Before opening the shop, the family moved around a lot, as her father traveled often for work, though Sandeen’s family was originally from the Twin Cities — her mom from St. Paul and her dad from Minneapolis. 

She laughs when she thinks of the shop first opening. Her mother had gone to a trade show and gotten products to open it, and they filled the whole garage, a space her father was hoping to use for his own projects. She says her dad looked at it, laughed and said “There goes my garage.”

She laughs and says he did eventually get a garage, 20 years later. 

At the time, shops specializing in Scandinavian gifts were not common, despite many of the immigrants in the area coming from Scandinavian origins. It was also uncommon for a woman to run her own shop. Sandeen says her father never thought twice about it and supported her mother through the whole endeavour. 

Sandeen still carries many of the same products her mother carried — greeting cards, glassware, aprons, books and more.

“It’s the things we see in grandma’s house,” Sandeen says, explaining that she keeps the store’s stock traditional. She adds it wouldn’t be affordable to customers, especially in a working class neighborhood, to carry more expensive, modern Scandinavian items. 

Most of the products the Sandeens sold were purchased from wholesalers at trade shows. Sandeen said that for a little while in the 1970s, her parents would travel to Scandinavian countries and bring items back, but eventually it became too expensive to do so. 

Buying is one of Sandeen’s favorite memories of the shop — ordering and purchasing the items to be sold, forgetting what was ordered, and having it feel like Christmas when they opened the deliveries and set the items up in the shop.

 

Transition to a new generation

Sandeen gets emotional when she talks about the transition of taking over the shop from her parents.

Her father, Sandy, passed away in 2006 at the age of 101 and her mom, Gail, passed away in January of 2008. She said she and her sister began running the business during Christmas of 2007, just before her mom died. 

The sisters were trying to figure out how to shut down the store, and had only ordered enough items to make it through Christmas, the business’s most busy time of year. 

After her sister returned home and Sandeen was left alone at the shop, she says it was comforting to be there. Tears come to her eyes as she remembers sitting in the shop and half expecting her mom to pop around a corner. 

“It was like Mom was here,” Sandeen says. 

She says she realized her parents left a gift — an established business — and that if she didn’t give it a try of running it, she would regret it. 

And she already had the experience from a lifetime of working at the shop. She says during the last few years her mom was around, Sandeen noticed her mom “training” her — when they would go to trade shows to stock up for Christmas, her mom would let her lead the way with the purchasing power. 

The training paid off, Sandeen says, as the past 10 years have been successful for her.

For most of those years she worked a job as a church musician and ran the shop. The shop would be open Thursday through Saturday, and the church job would take place Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Monday being her only day off. 

Three years ago, she retired from her church job and this past Christmas season she realized it was time to call it quits. She had recently dealt with cancer and was just running out of energy to keep up during the busy holiday season. 

Tears come to her eyes again as she thinks about closing the shop for good in a few weeks.

“It’s hard to let it go,” Sandeen says, adding it will be really hard to lock up for the last time. 

It’s not just the memories of growing up in the shop, working as a family, traveling together to go to shows, but also the customers, that bring tears to her eyes as she thinks of the shop’s numbered days. 

“This was Dad’s social outlet,” Sandeen says. “I didn’t understand it until I took it over. Now I do.”

Sandeen says she has had the most wonderful customers over the years, more tears welling as she talks about the friendships and connections she made through the shop. 

“You have all been a great joy in my life.”

 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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