Ingebretson’s Catalog — A Holiday Tradition

Hoping these packages have what we circled in the Dayton’s catalog – not socks or underwear.

When I was a kid back in the 60s one of the best days of the year was when the Dayton’s toy catalog arrived. It may have had other items besides toys but to me and my brother it was the Dayton’s TOY catalog. We would peruse the pictures of games, toys, and whatever was the latest and shiniest items for kids, and circle the ones we wanted for Christmas. I fell in love with the Easy Bake oven the moment I saw it (who knew you could bake a cake with a light bulb), although it cannot be used to cook lefse or lutefisk.

When Country Living wrote about The Lost Charm of Mail-Order Catalogs in America they said:

Holiday catalogs are beginning to arrive as Christmas approaches. Many are impersonally addressed to “current resident,” then tossed without a second glance. But catalogs in the U.S. have a surprising early history of getting up close and personal with customers.

Ingebretsen’s catalog definitely has a history of getting up close and personal with its customers.

Today, many people await the arrival of the Ingebretsen’s catalog. We get calls from our customers asking with the catalog will be done and they will bring it with them to the store with pages marked for the items they want to see. We aren’t sure if people are as excited for its arrival as Steve Martin was for the phone book arrival, but we’d like to think so.

Cover of our 2006 catalog

There is an art to the Ingebretsen’s catalog. It is not about putting as many items as possible on a page, but it is about sharing items that we think our customers will love as much as we do, displaying and organizing them in a thoughtful/useful way, and showing items that are unique to our store. If you look at some of the catalogs you will be getting in the next few weeks you will see little art or imagination in how the items are gathered together or photographed.

Most stores who still have catalogs hire an outside firm to do the work. The Ingebretsen’s catalog is done in-house so we can be sure it reflects our store accurately. The catalog is not just a way to share products – although we love our products and are proud of their Scandinavian craftsmanship, design and quality – we also see the catalog as a way to continue sharing Scandinavian traditions. Our store is nearly 100 years old and we are delighted to be a source for new customers wanting to learn traditions as well as for our lifetime customers who are passing traditions down to the next generations.

Picture from 2019 Catalog of Ingebretsen family

Julie Ingebretsen and Molly Ingebretsen (yes, they are sisters) are the brains and brawn behind the Ingebretsen’s catalog. Julie has been working on it since the first catalog in the late 80s and Molly joined the fun in 2000. Molly is our photographer and does the layout. We have a wonderful copywriter named Virginia Fuhrken who understands not just the English language but who “gets us – she really, really gets us” (and who would never use the word “really” the way I just did).  Karen Anderson selects and writes about the books and many of the needlework and craft selections, and Barb Rice selects and writes about the music. In addition, Julie and Molly call on others to help with proofing the final product not just for typos but to be sure the price is accurate as well as the SKU (that is essential for businesses today). It would not be an exaggeration to say that the catalog takes thousands of hours to produce.

“We think about the catalog all year long; gathering ideas for themes and products all the time.” Julie told me. “It is around May when we actually start putting pen to paper and laying the groundwork for the catalog. We work on it all summer and into the fall until it is finally sent to be printed.”

Dayton’s Toy Catalog 1958

The first Ingebretsen’s catalog was created in the late 80’s and was in black and white. Julie would work on it at home, laying out pictures and text on a mock-up sheet that would then go to a printer. Compared to today’s computer layout programs it was akin to taking your laundry to the river and beating it on a rock.

The goal is not only to show our customers some of the unique items available at our store, but to do it with what we like to call the Ingebretsen’s feeling. Molly says “Even if a customer can’t physically come into the store, we hope the catalog gives the same feeling of warmth, kindness, and caring that we give each customer who walks through the door.”

While the work starts in May, there is only so much “planning” you can do because things can change quickly so flexibility is an important part of the process. For example, the gift shows that Julie and other store buyers attend are usually held in August and September. This means not only are there new items that the store will be carrying but items that they want to include in the catalog. So flexibility has to be part of the equation – not just with products but with themes.

From our 2017 catalog

There are some recurring themes each year including the Nordic Christmas table, our traditional Jul time friends the tomte and nisse, and collectibles. Past catalogs have had some unique themes such as Finland on its 100th year celebration, Minnesota on its 150 years of statehood, and SKÅL! celebrating the fine art of drinking.

This year’s catalogue has some unique themes including:

  • North Star, partially chosen because this is year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing
  • Mushroom Hunt to continue our interest in the renaissance of foraging
  • Goats not just because they are cute but they are an important part of Nordic agriculture and their milk makes some tasty cheese.
Our 2014 Catalog Cover

When a model is needed for a photo the first place we turn is to friends, family, and store family. They put mittens on their hands, shirts on their backs, socks on their feet, and, on occasion, horns on their heads. Even the family pets are brought into the mix. Molly has been known to cajole a neighbor into modeling a knit hat, despite having a “bad hair day.”

You can find the Ingebretsen’s catalog online or you can call the store and we can mail a copy to you. (We do not sell addresses to others so you don’t need to worry about getting on a “list” that you do not want to be part of.) You can also get a copy in the store.

(Written by Mary Hirsch)