Finn Ware in Portland

Saara Matthews

Saara Matthews, owner of Finn Ware in Astoria, opened a second location called Nordic Finn Ware in November inside the Nordia House in Portland.

Finn Ware has joined the short list of Astoria businesses that have expanded into the Portland metro area.

Saara Matthews, owner of the Scandinavian store on Commercial Street, recently opened an annex called Nordic Finn Ware in Portland’s Nordia House. The announcement comes as local ice cream-maker Frite & Scoop recently canceled an expansion into Forest Grove.

Matthews had been running a pop-up store during the holidays the past two years at the Nordia House, a Scandinavian center opened in southwest Portland by cultural nonprofit Nordic Northwest. The center also includes Broder Söder, a newer location of the popular Portland Scandinavian restaurant.

After last Christmas, Matthews started discussing a permanent location with Nordic Northwest. By the end of last month, she had hired a couple of employees and opened a 10-by-20-foot annex to catch the holiday rush using her inventory from Astoria.

Riding out the recession

Finn Ware owner Saara Matthews has opened a new location of the Scandinavian store in the Portland cultural center Nordia House.

“I’m trying to bring up things that they can’t get at Ikea, or they can’t get at Cost Plus” World Market, she said.

The next challenge in Portland is seeing what customers will buy year-round, she said, although Scandinavian foods such as lingonberries and glogg have proven popular.

Sisters Darlene Bjornsgard and Dorothy Smith started Finn Ware in 1987, when there were three Scandinavian stores in Astoria, including Little Denmark and Nordic Batik. Matthews and her husband purchased Finn Ware from the sisters in 2010 during the trough of the recession.

“It was a little scary, because everything had just crashed, but I thought there was potential in the store,” she said.

Matthews updated the website and added an online store. Sales have grown every year, she said. There aren’t many stores like hers, even in the Portland area, and Matthews feels the new location is providing a service to fellow Scandinavians.

Lisa and Kevin Malcolm announced in August they would be adding a second location to Frite & Scoop near Pacific University in Forest Grove in a vacant former ice cream shop. But the couple recently announced they would not be moving forward with the expansion.

“The scope of the project expanded to the point to where it wasn’t responsible for us to continue on with it,” Kevin Malcolm said.

Gimre’s Shoe Store was one of the last Astoria businesses to expand into the Portland metro area, opening a location in downtown Hillsboro in 1986. Brothers Pete and Jon Gimre were approached in the 2000s by one of their biggest vendors, New Balance, about opening a concept store in Pioneer Place shopping mall in downtown Portland. They would eventually grow to include more locations in the Seattle metro area.

Several years ago, Pete Gimre took sole ownership of the Astoria location and left his brother to run the rest of the shoe stores as a separate business.

“It was too much for me,” Pete Gimre said. “My love has always been in Astoria. The travel, time and energy was too much for me.”

The key to success in a far-flung location is a good staff, managers and a reasonable landlord in areas with higher rent, he said. Gimre’s also had the backing of New Balance, similar to Matthews’ support from the Nordic Northwest group.

“It’s exciting. It’s fun,” Pete Gimre said. “But it does take dedication and constant work.”

Matthews has a three-year lease in the Nordia House with Nordic Finn Ware.

“I think it will take that long to get a handle on it,” she said. “I’m optimistically nervous about the coming year.”

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