Kitchen Nook /  Finnish Book Store

Thunder Bay Landmark The Kitchen Nook/The Finnish Book Store Embraces Digital Age

Story by Nancy Saunders

Located in the heart of Thunder Bay’s Bay and Algoma business district, The Kitchen Nook/The Finnish Book Store is an historic local landmark. The Finnish Book Store opened in the 1950s and “has such a great history. It was always a meeting place. It was paramount for the community back in the ‘50s and ‘60s when immigrants were coming from Europe. We had a post office; we were the connection back to Europe,” says current owner Richard Koskiniemi. The store was started by Koskiniemi’s grandparents, and he and his wife Marlene took it over thirty years ago and added the Kitchen Nook. “We’ve changed it, expanded it, reinvented ourselves with the Kitchen Nook. We’ve always evolved and changed.”

Prior to COVID-19, the store had a full e-commerce site, was sending out regular e-blasts and was active on social media. Koskiniemi says they were in a good place. “We’re grateful we did it when we did, because at least we’re not scrambling to try to reinvent ourselves. It is a challenge—a time commitment. Especially for a bricks and mortar store, like we are,” he explains. The Kitchen Nook/The Finnish Book Store is well-known for its stunning window displays, welcoming interior and in-person shopping experience. “We’re very hands-on, we give great customer service and we have a great ambiance. That’s why people like coming to our store—we are a positive experience. We spend a lot of effort on our interior and our windows. They are a major project. Our windows could take us a week to do.”

Koskiniemi says that balancing the store and its e-commerce platform required a lot of time and effort, and that they worked with others on some of these tasks. “Before COVID, our social media was totally organized. We work with Shout Media. They’re a great company to work with and we have a great working relationship. We had it down pat: we’d meet, they’d do all our posts, it was so awesome—we were in total synch.” When COVID-19 hit, The Kitchen Nook/The Finnish Book Store transitioned to doing their own social media. “We started doing our own social media posts, to be more cost effective. Believe me, that has been a challenge. One thing it’s taught us is how to do our posts on our own. We’ve even bought better phones now with better cameras, and I got a high-end stick that lets you do panoramic shots. The cost-effectiveness of this is super important.”

With help from the Digital Main Street grant, The Kitchen Nook/The Finnish Book Store is upgrading and improving the functionality of their website. They are also looking to leverage social media analytics to determine ways to grow their customer base. Koskiniemi credits the Digital Main Street training with providing information and resources on how to maximize impact in a digital setting. “One thing that social media and e-commerce have done is that we generated a younger customer base, which is really important. We need to have younger people engaged with our store in order for it to grow and continue. It’s expanded that reach. And even regionally, I think it’s expanded. I think that’s really made a difference. We’re looking forward to working more with analytics to get to know our customers and to continue to generate new customers,” says Koskiniemi.

Koskiniemi emphasises the importance of community and connection to business, back when they were first starting out and currently as businesses are having to pivot in new ways. “I know that when I founded the Bay and Algoma Business Association 30 years ago and was pounding the pavement, it some ways it was more challenging because there was no sending somebody an email back then. The silver lining of that meant that I met everybody. I believe that working together as a community is probably even more important now: working with your fellow businesses in the neighbourhood, supporting one another, being a member. Our business group here works together on promotions, fundraising efforts, beautification efforts—it’s all positive. I highly recommend working together with the people surrounding you. We’re always stronger as a community. The more we engage ourselves, in whatever ways that is, it makes for a stronger community in every way.”