New owners now at Finn Sisu Ski and Sauna

By Janet Wight

“We’re small, but we know a lot!” is the motto of Finn Sisu, the Lauderdale retailer offering an expansive selection of all things Nordic.

The Bugle recently sat down with the new owners to gain insights into Finn Sisu’s operations. Even though the store has had a change in owners, Finn Sisu is unlikely to look much different to customers, as few changes are planned.

Launched in 1978 by Finland native Ahvo Taipale, Finn Sisu is a one-stop shop brimming with skis, snow gear, accessories and knowledgeable service.

Custom saunas, which represent 40% of total revenue, are always available for purchase; several are on display in the back of the store.

Taipale originally landed in Minnesota as an exchange student. An influential go-getter, he became heavily involved in the local Nordic community and decided to set up shop on University Avenue near Fairview.

However, once the Metropolitan Transit Commission began light rail construction along University Avenue in 2010, Taipale relocated his store to its current location, 2436 Larpenteur Ave. in Lauderdale.

When Taipale decided he was ready to sell Finn Sisu, it took several years for ownership to transfer to three of his employees: Tom Novak, Nate Rhode and Karen Weium. Novak’s wife Judy, a banker at Cherokee Bank, was instrumental in closing the sale on July 24 last year.

Each of the three new owners has substantial experience with cross-country skiing, and they have all been enthusiastic competitors over the years.

Novak started working at the store in 1992 after gaining experience at several different ski shops, both during and after college. He also taught skiing at the Como Park Ski Center.

Rhode, a former high school racer and part-time employee at Finn Sisu, decided to return after earning a degree in engineering.

After being a satisfied Finn Sisu customer for years, Weium began working part-time at the store in 2010, then incrementally increased her involvement.

Responsibility for day-to-day operations is split among the three owners. Novak is the chief motivator and self-described fixer, while Rhode concentrates on sales of ski equipment and saunas. Weium rounds out the leadership team as the numbers cruncher and idea generator.

“We will continue to evolve—adding new products and services that will appeal to our customers,” Weium said. “Ahvo had a good thing going and we don’t want to stray too far from that.”

Erratic winters have been the biggest challenge to the ski business for years now, Novak explained.

However, several nearby ski areas, including the Winter Recreation Area at Battle Creek, have machine-made snow trails available for Nordic enthusiasts to explore.

Anyone who would like to learn more about the local ski community is invited to stop by Finn Sisu for friendly conversation and advice. 

Janet Wight is a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

1 Response

  1. Bonnie Senesac

    Hi Janet,
    I finally got around to reading all your articles. They are all interesting and well-written. It almost makes me want to visit your area to explore the landscape and businesses.
    Hugs,
    Bonnie

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