So-called “puffin shops” – gift shops geared towards tourists – have become ubiquitous in Reykjavík, and there is more to the business than meets the eye.
Sigurður Guðmundsson, who has worked for nearly two decades selling items intended for tourists and runs the tourist shop The Viking, told Vísir that most of these products are “mass produced crap from China” rather than authentic Icelandic products. This would include the ever-popular puffin-related related goods one can find at any number of tourist shops downtown, and sometimes even Icelandic flags.
The business of running such a shop also runs contrary to a competitive environment, he says. While there are an untold number of such shops downtown, they all answer to wholesalers and suppliers, which are in turn controlled by just a few people. This situation, which Sigurður likens to a monopoly, means that while the puffin shops may be numerous, they all sell essentially the same things.
Despite this, puffin shops continue to pull in billions every year, as the number of tourists to Iceland continues to grow.
“It’s an intolerable bluff in these sectors connected to nationalism, that we’re selling Icelandic products,” Sigurður told reporters, “A tiny portion of these products we sell are Icelandic, but most of this is mass produced crap from China – and I’m taking part in it.”