Three years ago when I moved to Stockholm, one of the first pieces of advice I remember getting was: “go to Clas Ohlson.” I had just landed in Stockholm with all my possessions for a one-year study abroad packed in two large rolling suitcases. I needed just about everything you could imagine; toothpaste, pots and pans, a lamp, plug converters… Clas Ohlson had me covered.
Now if you were in any major American city, the question would be: how do I get there? I don’t have a car, and it’s probably in the suburbs, right? That was the magic of Clas Ohlson. It was right downtown, not kind of downtown, but smack dab in the middle of the downtown shopping district, a 2-minute walk from T-Centralen, the convergence of Stockholm’s 7 subway lines and commuter rail system.
Easy access to Clas Ohlson, combined with nearly universal co-location of grocery stores and subway stations, allowed me to live a car-free lifestyle without compromising on access to either the daily necessities or the odds and ends of everyday life. Between ICA and Coop, the two largest grocery chains in Scandinavia, essentially every subway station had a grocery store (see links for maps). In the year that I lived in Stockholm I set foot in a car just three times. The city’s commercial and neighborhood centers were developed around transit in a way that makes cars unnecessary for everyday life, elevating a car-free lifestyle from second-class to mainstream.
Equally important as access to these stores, was their general affordability. Yes, of course everything in Sweden is expensive compared to the US, but these stores are not specialty stores. Lack of affordable shopping for everyday needs is, in my opinion, a huge impediment to a car-free lifestyle in the US. Many people simply can’t afford to meet their daily needs by shopping at boutiques or Whole Foods. Those stores serve the upper middle class, but they do not help foster midrange, affordable urban living, something we sorely need.
My experience in Stockholm is why I’m so excited for the opening of a downtown Target. With a grocery store as well as home and apparel sections, it will provide everything one needs for an affordable car-free lifestyle. Located at 2nd and Pike, just a block from University Street Station and all other downtown bus service, this store will hopefully start to help Seattleites live a convenient and affordable car-free lifestyle like the one I was able to enjoy.