Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods announces it will close

As feared, the owners of Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods announced today “with deep regret” that they’re calling it quits after 49 years in business. “The decision to close has been a difficult one,” said Reidun and Anita Endresen in a letter to customers. “As you may have heard, we have been attempting to sell within the family. However, for various reasons this is not possible.”

Olsen’s has been a staple of Scandinavian culture here in Ballard since Einar Johnsen opened the store in 1960. Just last month, the Norwegian Ambassador snacked at Olsen’s after the Syttende Mai parade. Today, a sign in the window announces the store’s closure with a sale of up to 25 percent off. The store expects to close sometime in mid to late July.

A painting of the Endresen sisters hangs above a gift display in the store. “We would like to thank all of our wonderful and valued customers and commitment throughout the years,” the Endresen’s write. “Without you we would have never had so many great memories and experiences.” Do you have a memory of Olsen’s to share? Leave it in comments below.

Plus: We added Olsen’s to the Ballard Business Tracker map.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

61 thoughts to “Olsen’s Scandinavian Foods announces it will close”

  1. NOOOO!!!!! OH THE HUMANITY!!!!!!

    No, but seriously, this bums me out big time. I love me some cardamom braids and gjetost cheese.

  2. Truly a pivotal moment for Ballard. I've lived in Ballard for 15 years, and this is one of the more sad moments. I feel guilty for not shopping there more over the years.

  3. The last Scandinavian thing left in Ballard is leaving, sad. When I came here 15 years ago, it was all old Norweigians and fishermen. There were at least 3 Scandinavian resturants and I felt like I had been transpoted to Norway! Now I feel like I am living in; if Berkeley, CA had a baby with Haight St in San Francisco! I am of Noweigian decent and I loved Ballard the way it was but, alas, things change. Isnt there that Scandinavian place on 15th still? Thats probably going to be turned into another gourmet dog store, LOL!! I knew it was going to happen though…well, I better stock up on some fiske kake!!

  4. LOL 15 years ago? In 1900 the population of Ballard was only 30% Scandinavian and it has decreased ever since. 15 years ago the membership of Sons of Norway was less than it is today and any increase is due to allowing non Scandinavians to join.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think gourmet dog food is a great example of “ a fool and his money are soon parted,” but be realistic. Olsen’s is gone because they offered nothing anyone wanted to buy on any kind of regular basis. Once a year in May when everyone pretends he is Scandinavian does not support a business. The few real old Ballard Scandinavians I still know never shopped there and never did to be honest.

  5. Are they going to try and remain open until the Seafoodfest? They really will be missed. I asked the clerk last week if they were going to open up an internet store and she said no.

  6. I hadn't been in there since I moved back to Ballard about 7-8 years ago. Not being Scandinavian is no excuse. It was one of my favorite Ballard shops back in the day. The true meaning of 'you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.'

  7. That 39% notion is a big fat lie perpetuated by the book “Passport to Ballard.” The 2nd biggest group of immigrants (27%) were “Canadian.” Canadian? They were Scandinavian immigrants who came through Canada. Pretty much every Nordic I know in Ballard has grandparents whose immigration/naturalization papers required them to denounce the King of England. Why Cananda? Because it was cheaper and easier to get to and into than the US. Typically people would get sponsored by a family member down here and come down.

    I condider my mom and all of her friends “real” Scandinavians, and we did and do shop there. Rose, you aren't Scandinavian, so you would not necessarily shop there….or know who does. And I take exception to the Syttende Mai comment. By 1910 half of the Scandinavian population of Ballard were women. Many of us are half or 1/4 Nordic; does that make us “not real Scandinavians”? The Ballrd Sons of Norway Lodge is the biggest in the world. Not the US, the world. We still have the last remaining Norwegian newspaper in America, which just celebrated its 120th Anniversary. We have the largest Syttende Mai parade in America, third biggest in the world after Oslo and Bergen.

    Olsens is gone because all the people who ordered food for Christmas didn't/couldn't go pick it up.

  8. The 30% figure came from History of Washington web site and has nothing to do with Passport to Ballard. I’ll diplomatically refrain from commenting on the rest.

  9. no more cold smoked salmon and pickled herring!!? Seriously, they ought to sell the recipe in a cook book. My mother-in-law doesn't come to see us she comes to get her share of some pickled herring from Olsen's. :( so sad to see it go. It really does seem to be the last stand out from old ballard.

  10. I too will miss this store. There is still the Scandinavian Specialtise store up on 15th and 67th. Maybe they will be able to expand their ready made food section.

  11. funny how people complain about this, yet they did not help keep the business which was 'so pivotal to Ballard' open. Gentrification happens. Ballard hasn't been a 'little Scandinavian enclave' of Seattle for years. Business start and fail, capitalism is cyclical.

  12. Any other words of wisdom, zen master? I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought Olsen's would always be there. Stupid fantasy? Sure. But I'll tell you something. Had myself and my neighbors known Olsen's was in financial trouble we would have rallied around it.
    Of course gentrification happens. We can have gentrification without wrecking the neighborhood, can't we?

  13. This is sad. Some argue it was inevitable and I can understand that. I feel like this gives our community a rallying point to demand that when development happens, the new gives a nod to Ballard's beginnings. We're dangerously close to looking and feeling like any suburb of Seattle. For every Nordic piece we lose, we should be bringing in another.

  14. Read the article. The owners decided to close after being in business for 49 years. They had difficulty selling the business, even to family members. Speculate all you like about why, but it's none of our business. It's family.

    To Reidun and Anita Endresen: Thanks for being in Ballard for so long! Your presence will be missed. Here's wishing you a long and happy retirement. Enjoy!

  15. I read the article. It was somebody else who opened the place 49 years ago. And I have nothing bad to say about Endressen sisters whatsoever. They're lovely ladies. If they simply want to retire, then the best wishes to them. They earned it. All I was saying is that if it was financial reasons the neighborhood (judging by the comments on this thread) would have rallied around to help save the place.

  16. I can't believe Olsen's is closing!! Where else will we get such delicious rulle pølse, fiskekaker, fenelår and all the rest? No offense to the other Scandinavian food store, but Olsen's has the absolute BEST rulle pølse. As a native of Ballard, I am thoroughly disgusted and deeply saddened by all the changes being made and all the valued places we are losing.

  17. This is the final nail in the coffin. Ballard has changed for the worse and its roots have withered to nothing. I will miss Olsen's and I will miss all the foods I used to pick up there. I am so sorry to see this store close.

  18. Zen master? Not sure if that was meant as a put down or what, but if it was – very classy.

    The observation is this – no one wanted the store anymore, so it closed. It probably wasn't profitable. As you can see on myballard, many complain of people moving in and 'wrecking the neighborhood.'

    Rejection of the 'changes' of Ballard are always blamed on 'them' (replace 'them' with any list of person) and mentioned with a-wishing that things were 'the way they were' before 'they' changed it. It just smacks of elitism.

  19. This is a sad day! I have fond memories of walking past Olson's everyday. I have to admit I only ever bought my boyfriend a keychain from the store. Wish I had shopped there more often!

  20. It's just not the case that they are closing because no one wants what they sell. Judging from past reports, it sounds like they're closing because costs have risen, and while there was an interested buyer, the necessary loans didn't come through. (https://www.myballard.com/2008/07/17/olsens-scan…)

    The economy is in bad shape, banks are failing. The past year has not been an easy time to get a loan. It has also not been an easy time for retail. The closure sounds like more a product of hard times than the store selling stuff no one wants (remember, they managed to stick around for 49 years – not a sign of consumer indifference.)

    As a “real” Scandinavian, I'm going to seriously miss shopping there.

  21. I am quite sad to hear of it closing, but I must say I'm not surprised. As a new Ballard resident, I went in to the store a couple months ago for the first time. I was the only customer and was completely ignored. I presented every opportunity to the store keeper to engage me in a dialogue. Knowing my own buying habits of chocolate and cheese, it would have been super easy to sell me on something. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I kept my money and left. I remember thinking, wow, that's terrible customer service. I wonder how long it will last. Now we know.

  22. The store keeper probably was respecting your privacy. Did you, yourself say hello? Where do you think you are anyway? This is the Northwest, by the way, not some southern state where everyone talks to strangers. What do you mean by “presented every opportunity for the store keeper to engage in dialogue” are you sure you are not from Seattle? – because that is the sort of passive aggressive behavior we like around here.

  23. It's not that nobody wanted to shop there – people DO shop there, however, the price of the items they import has risen so dramatically because of economy, gas costs, etc…that most of the items have become too expensive for the average customer. Yes, everything is cyclical, but I dislike the haters saying that nobody shopped there. Yes, people did – but many of the items were so expensive we couldn't buy all that we wanted anymore. And yes, the store will be sorely missed.

  24. This is really sad, but most people do their shopping after work or on weekends. So many people come to downtown Ballard on Sundays for the market, but they weren't open!! They will be missed.

  25. “the new gives a nod to Ballard's beginnings”

    You mean the 'new' should pay the old's rent to keep out dated, inefficient business subsidized?

    No thanks.

    And this place was “Ballard's beginnings” only if humans have been living here since 1960.

  26. RIP Ballard. I liked this place and I’m Argentinean! One of the things that made Ballard so unique in the first place has also closed down. Would the last Old Swede leaving Ballard turn off the lights??

  27. In 20 years when your favorite Ballard haunt closes and you start sadly saying how the neighborhood is changing so much we'll see what you have to say.

    It's 's not elitist to like your favorite stores but it is elistist to bulldoze a neighborhood that used to be cool.

  28. btw, I was just in there this afternoon and everything is flying off the shelves. In the past every time I've gone in there you'd find 1 or 2 other people in the store, but today there were about 8! They were joking that they should have announced they were closing every few months so they'd get such great business.
    There were many an old folk in there reminiscing about “how things used to be” and telling old stories about the store and the area. :) I understand the changing world and society, but I wish we would pay more attention to and respect our history.

  29. Hello,

    We are very sorry to hear about your lovely shop closing.We live in Langley BC and one of the highlights to our daughter and son-in-laws home in Ballard was to stop and buy some treats that are seldom found elsewhere.
    We will miss this and are very sad to hear this news.

    Thanks for the good memories, Carolyn

  30. Rallied around and done what? Bought stuff you don’t want and have no need for? You yourself said you have not been in the shop. Bars are the only places in Ballard making any money. Of course when the neighborhood turns in to a bar neighborhood fill of bar stool fixtures, there goes the neighborhood.

  31. That post cracks me up!!! I picture a yuppie peacock waiting to be “attended to” so they would buy some friggen sausage. This is exactly what I hate about this area now. I would post some nasty comments in Danish, but there may still be a person or two who would understand what I said.

  32. Your posting names suit you.
    This is why I don't move: I bought my home here many years ago exactly because I could speak my “other” language to my neighbors. I could buy the foods I grew up eating. I could enjoy the hygeli environment here and not have to defend myself against sorry little fools like yourselves.
    In an era when being a “mixed neighborhood” is so cool, why is it that those of us who don't have the appropriate color in our ethnicity are fair game for tacky comments?
    I almost feel sorry for you.

  33. Sweet rose you're a fool. Do you think they stayed in buisness (Very small buisness) for 50 years if they didn't offer food people wanted? FOOL

  34. brooksb,,,,, it lasted 49 years. The store is closing because the owners want to retire. The people who were going to buy it couldn't get financed because of the economy and how bad the banks are doing…. It's a good thing you kept your money in your pocket. It's stuck up people like you that are moving into Ballard and changing it for the worst…..

  35. Wow, change, strange people, different people, funny foods.

    Must be horrible living in Ballard with all these weird outsiders and their funny names and different tastes. How do you survive?

  36. They tried on several sundays to keep the store open but it didn't have much buisness. It cost more to keep the store open then what they made for the day…. There were alot of things that could have been changed to make extra money but the sisters were ready to be done, They have both worked there for over 20 years and just wasn't willing to keep doing it another 20. Anita's son wanted to take the store over but because he had no assets (House) he was unable to get a loan. Lets just say that the amount he was asking for was very small and the local Norweigian bank Viking Bank couldn't even help. That's pretty sad when you've got the biggest part of the norweigian community trying to stay alive and the norweigian local bank can't help out….. WOW the buisness was there for 49 years and they didn't think he could make it another 49……

  37. Hey Alisa, as a certified yuppie, I'll raise a $4 latte to toast your suffering at the hands of us evil outsiders who have invaded your Ballard. Clearly you own the place and all history here begins and ends with YOU!

    Maybe we can add a booth at Seafest: Come through expensive yuppie pet toys at the serving angry native.

  38. Don't feed the trolls Alisa!

    We all know there is plenty of room for everyone in Ballard, even the yuppies, God bless their pointy little heads!

    And as for the Scandies, heck, I enjoy watching the Syttende Mai parade even though I'm a Brit, I just enjoy a bit of civic pride.

  39. This is old news by now, but we just found out about Olsen's today, October 18, 2009, while shopping at the Ballard Market. I am very sorry to see Olsen's Scandinavian Foods close. My parents were from Norway (they are deceased now) and immigrated to the U.S. after WWII, 1947 to be exact. My sister and I were born in Seattle and Olsen's, which use to be Johnsen's was a store our Mother shopped at for years, until she and our father retired and went back to Stavanger, Norway. For many years our family was absent from Seattle, living in Norway and other parts of the world, but have since returned back to the Northwest in the early 90's. We picked up where we left off so to speak, and went back to shopping at Olsen's every time we were in Ballard area. I live further north of Seattle about 20 miles, and my sister lives in Calgary, Alberta Canada, so neither of us had regular visits to Olsen's, but still we would try to get down to Ballard at least 3 times a year or more. Where do we go now? Very, very sorry to hear that Olsen's is closed.

  40. Deeply deeply saddened by this news, which I realize is much overdue! I moved to another state for these last six months and I never heard that the store closed until I tried to call them just today.

    Great memories of eating the polse here on 17th of May and also dragging my boyfriend through the shop to make him eat pickled herring, etc.

    I'm moving back to Seattle soon and I had always hoped to move close to Olsen's. Now I have no real reason to move to Ballard. *Sigh*

    Thanks for all the great food/memories/very friendly staff.

  41. I was at Syttende Mai yesterday and was shocked to find Olsen’s gone.

    I walked right past a stand selling polse m/lompe og Solo, determined to get mine at Olsen’s where I’ve gotten it every year I can remember.

    When I saw a Mexican food joint in their space something inside me felt like it had died.

    As a person of Scandinavian descent I am truly saddened. Where will I get my Marzipan brod and kjottkaker?

    Where will I go to practice what little Norwegian I know?

    Uff for meg.

  42. Hello, I had written in late June of last year to this forum, but cannot see my post any longer. Perhaps representing my business is not accepted. My original statement had been an invitiation to come visit my store on 67th and 15th. Scandinavian Specialties. We are a a gift store, a cafe and a grocer. We have all that Olsens once had and much much more. Our business has been a fixture of the Ballard community for 50 years. Please come visit our family store for any Scandinavian needs you may have. We havew Krokan Is for the summertime, come give it a try!

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