The future of the empty streets in Ålesund

It is 11am on a Saturday morning in the coastal city of Ålesund. For once, the weather is nice enough to be outside, but the city is sleeping.

The city, that is home to approximately 70 thousand inhabitants, has seen a lot of change during the last 10 years. As a competing shopping mall, 15 minutes outside the city, has grown bigger and bigger, stores in the centre has moved to seek for more costumers. Gågata, the main shopping street in Ålesund, is quite empty, due to a lot of stores moving.

A store that has changed location, is La Belle. They were located in Gågata, but moved to a more vibrant part of the city. “The main shopping street, Gågata, has become a bit quiet,” Marta Løvik Roaldsnes says. She works at the store, and explains how it was difficult to reach customers if they were not already planning to find the specific store. “Right now you have some tourist shops and restaurants in Gågata, not a lot of other stores that can generate more costumers our way as well,” Løvik Roaldsnes says.

Picture: Martine Kvisgaard Borgund. Marta Løvik Roaldsnes is glad to see more customers at the new location in Ålesund centre.

As a result of moving, more people have been stepping inside.

“I have seen more people walking by. They are younger, and more people come in just because they are walking by and are curious. Some people are a little confused as well, they haven’t really realized we are moving”, Løvik Roaldsnes says.

Some of the stores do not just change location in Ålesund centre, they move to the competing shopping mall – one of the biggest in Norway. Amfi Moa, is the place where stores wants to move.  In 2019 the store Glassmagasinet had two stores, one in the centre of Ålesund, and one at Amfi Moa. They had to close one store, and naturally chose the one with most costumers to remain open. Therefore the store in Ålesund had to close. This is the case with a few other stores in Ålesund as well.

Picture: Martine Kvisgaard Borgund. The parking lot at Amfi Moa at 11am.

Emma Emblem works at Glassmagasinet at the shopping mall. There are some reasons to why she believes that more people tend to come to Amfi Moa. “The thing about the mall is that you have everything at the same place, you do not have to walk outside from store to store,” she says.

Picture: Martine Kvisgaard Borgund: In 2019, Glasmagasinet decided to close the store in Ålesund, in favour of the one at Amfi Moa.

Although there are reasons to why it is convenient to shop at the mall, it cannot give the same experiences as the centre of Ålesund. “It is about making places where people can meet each other, and the city centre of Ålesund has those places,” says Monica Molvær, leader of the Community Group of Ålesund. She believes there are experiences in Ålesund you won’t find in a mall. “You don’t see anyone taking a picture of their shopping cart, but rather someone at the harbour in Ålesund taking a picture of the sunset while they eat an ice cream,” she adds.

Even though some stores have moved from the centre, she points out that some central stores have actually come back to the centre, like the handy store, Jernia. According to Molvær, more brands were trying to establish a store in the centre, but then the pandemic hit. “That made it very difficult,” she says.

Photo credit: Ålesund Høyre. Monica Molvær, leader of Ålesund Community Group.

But, the pandemic did also help the city life in Ålesund. “Due to the pandemic, we get a whole lot of Norwegian tourists. The revenue in the summer has totally changed from before the pandemic, when most of our tourists came from the cruise ships,” Molvær says. She does see a brighter future for Ålesund, and believes that the pandemic has made people realize that if you want a store to survive, you have to use it.

Picture credit: Martine Kvisgaard Borgund. The store has around 30 costumers a day, and do not look to change location.

Back in Gågata, you find the only remaining shoe store in the centre of Ålesund. The workers at Monark Eurosko, are happy to be located in the shopping street.

Picture: Martine Kvisgaard Borgund: Annika Kigle. The store in Gågata is still needed, and is not planning on moving.

“We are not really affected by it, many customers are happy that the store is still in the city. The bigger shopping mall is too far away for many, and it is very crowded,” Annika Kigle explains.