Shops in Kiruna’s ‘old’ town centre are on their last legs. They’ve done a deal with the mine and know they have to move. Some businesses have already gone to another part of Kiruna, though not to the new town centre. Some took the money and ran. Others are still here, waiting for premises to be built in the new town centre, and hoping there will be customers there for them when they’ve moved. It’s a waiting game.
It’s surprisingly resilient, though, the old town. Generous deals on rents have encouraged organisations and small businesses to camp out in unused premises for a year or two. It makes for an interesting walk around town since there’s usually some odd new organisation or business somewhere. There are town planning organisations, there to ‘involve the community’ (empty, whenever I look in), and there are local groups looking for a higher profile – a women’s rights group, a local political party.
These ‘pop-up’ concerns are side by side with shops that seem to have been in Kiruna forever, such as a Sami craft and souvenir shop, still showing an old ‘Lapp craft’ sign, and a specialist outdoor shop selling fishing flies, boots, and guns (I saw Father Christmas in here one year, in full gear, buying a gun). These shops seem indestructible, a part of the town’s core.
Another of these is ‘Centrum’, or J. W Lindgren’s, a family business selling men’s and women’s clothing. It’s been in Kiruna since 1925. I went into it for the first time this week, not knowing quite what to expect. You almost expect to find the sales assistants in period costume given the feel of the shop. It’s a calm oasis of polished wood cabinets and homely furniture, with long rows of men’s and women’s clothing on display and piled up packages of alternative sizes stored neatly behind glass and wood. It wouldn’t feel out of place for someone to come out and offer you a cup of coffee and a cake while you made myself at home among the women’s jackets.
The family who own the business have said they will be moving to the new centre, when a shop becomes available. They said this a few years ago, and it wasn’t clear then, nor is it even clear now, when this is likely to be – but in the meantime the show must go on, and the shop looks welcoming, Christmas music playing from a speaker over the entrance and people coming and going.
‘Centrum’ is indeed a prominent place in town. It’s on a corner, and an old neon sign above the shop tells us this is ‘Centrum’ (Swedish for ‘the centre’). The sign wraps around a corner of a small ‘square’ (which is actually a triangle) named after one of its famous inhabitants, Borg Mesch. He had his photographic studio in the building next door, and the ground floor of the building was an early cinema called ‘Palladium’. It’s now a pizza restaurant but it still uses the name of the cinema.
After my visit, standing outside, I turn to look more carefully at the shop window. It isn’t anything I usually notice much, since it features displays of grey coats and woollen skirts.
Something’s different about it though. Mm yes – that is a large Dalmatian dog in there – but it’s a dog without a head. The dog, and the other figures in the shop window, appear to have Christmas-wrapped boxes over their heads. That’s novel. Not what I was expecting. What can it mean?
Perhaps it’s suggesting that all I want for Christmas is my head inside a dark box – we do like the polar night up here, after all.
Maybe it’s saying that we’re all walking around blind to the imminent destruction of the town, oblivious to the threat, and lost in the spirit of Christmas.
Or it could be a way for the shop to say it would like not to be kept in the dark about when it’s going to be moving.
On the other hand, maybe heads didn’t arrive with the mannequins, or heads were ‘extra’, and the shop decided they could make do with some cardboard boxes.
It’s Kiruna – one just never quite knows.