EXTRA-BIG STORE MEANS EXTRA EFFORT: Svalbardbutikken customers getting longer end-to-end trek and self-serve checkouts; workers finishing expansion and ATM/cash plans

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Some shoppers might find themselves wanting some whine with that cheese, since buying some fine vino to go with that funky-smelling taleggio now requires a traveller-worthy trek – or more precisely an end-to-end trip at the vastly expanded Svalbardbutikken that debuted at its full size Monday.

And before too long those weary wine consumers will get the chance to expend even more effort (but, hey, even more calories burned), doing a short work shift as their own checkout clerk.

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The Nordpolet retail alcohol store now has both its own exterior entrance door and is connected to a far end of the expanded Svalbardbutikken. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

The “new” expanded half of Svalbardbutikken – ironically located in the pre-expansion store’s space – opened Monday featuring mostly an expanded selection of personal care, household and tourism/gift items. It also connects to the Nordpolen retail alcohol store at the far end, which also has its own separate exterior entrance.

The newly-built part of the store that opened in March houses nearly all of the groceries, including an expanded hot/cold deli at the other end of Svalbard’s only supermarket.

But customers entering the main entrance will immediately see the expansion is far from complete, as they are greeted by a large unfinished and sealed off section just behind the cashier lanes. Ronny Strømnes, the store’s administrative director, said the most visible ongoing work near the entrance is for six self-serve checkout lanes that will supplement the four full-service lanes already open. Two more full-service lanes nearby in the new section of the store will also debut soon.

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While tourists can’t get the famous “menacing polar bear” selfie at the main entrance of the new Svalbardbutikken, the expanded gift section has a more cuddly and close opportunity for cub scouts. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Perhaps the most notable remaining portion of the expansion – the installation of an ATM and cash withdrawals at the checkout lanes – is more depended on getting regulatory approval than construction, Strømnes said.

“We are talking some months,” he said.

The expansion, and particularly the additional gift stock, is to accommodate what was a rapidly rising tourism industry in Longyearbyen. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March dealt a severe blow to both the store’s planning and profits.

Store hours were reduced as the staff was reduced to one shift instead of two and the store suffered a 27-million-kroner drop in sales in 2020 compared to the 157 million kroner in 2019. Strømnes, in an interview last year, said the planned expansion was fully implemented because the store’s board of directors see it as a long-term project that assumes tourism will fully recover in the relatively short-term future.