FAST, THEN FEAST: Svalbardbutikken closing for weekend to move into new expanded space to debut Monday; construction continuing until July – and a local ATM finally returning there

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For those those feeling a bit hungry because Longyearbyen’s only supermarket is closed this weekend, take comfort in knowing there will be noticeably more quick, fresh and other foods after the store reopens in a portion of its vastly expanded space Monday.

(BTW, for those somehow caught totally unaware of the closure despite the fliers posted seemingly every couple of meters inside there, it’s still possible to buy groceries at the Longyearbyen Thai Shop from noon-3 p.m. Saturday and the Mix kiosk until 10 p.m. all weekend.)

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Construction continues this week in a newly built section of Svalbardbutikken, where groceries will be moved into this weekend. Photo courtesy of Svalbardbutikken.

The expansion at Svalbardbutikken isn’t scheduled to be finished until July, said Ronny Strømnes, the store’s administrative director. But he said employees will spend 12-hour days during the weekend moving groceries to a newly built area with distinctly marked sections such as a much larger areas heat-and-eat prepared foods.

“The produce selection will also be much greater,” he said.

Customers will be able to use the new main entrance as of Monday, Strømnes said. But the store will simply open as usual with no ribbon cutting or other ceremonies.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said, noting a celebratory opening is likely in August.

Among the other significant expansions in the store is a Svalbard gifts/souvenirs section, Strømmes said. Some of the two-story space is also slated to be used to house a movie theater (since the larger one at Kulturhuset often has many empty seats), the city’s youth center and possible other cultural facilities such as Galleri Svalbard.

Another major addition likely to be highly welcome by residents and visitors is Svalbardbutikken has agreed to take over the ATM operations from the SpareBank1 branch that closed last December, leaving Longyearbyen without a physical bank branch. The bank closed the ATM when the pandemic was declared last March, and almost no local stores (other than Svalbardbutikken and Mix) are accepting cash and people have found it difficult or impossible to obtain/deposit currency.

Strømmes told Svalbardposten this week that details of what cash services it will offer should be worked out before the full store reopening in July, although for now they are not being disclosed for security reasons.

Svalbardbutikken, like virtually all Longyearbyen businesses, has suffered enormous economic losses during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in shorter opening hours at the store, laying off about half of its employees and reducing membership dividends to one percent of purchases rather than four percent.

But Strømmes said the slowdown in business activity actually made it an ideal time for the expansion that started in full force last year, since it meant fewer people were affected by disruptions, and the project is based on long-range expectations of increased demand from locals and tourists.