There was a time in the U.S. when large, multistory department stores, such as New Orleans’ D.H. Holmes, were king. Meeting under the D.H. Holmes clock on Canal Street was a tradition. It is here, in fact, where readers first meet the character Ignatius J. Reilly from the classic novel Confederacy of Dunces as he waits for his mother. D.H. Holmes was purchased by a chain store in 1989 and closed. The building now houses a hotel, but the spirit of Ignatius lives on in the form of a bronze statue under the famous clock.
Meeting under a similar clock outside the Stockmann department store in downtown Helsinki is also a tradition, one your author learned about during a tour of the store and its vertical-transportation (VT) system given by KONE Communications Manager Scott McMahon and Stockmann Director of Corporate Communications Nora Malin. At nine retail floors (11 in all) and 540,000 sq. ft., it is the largest department store in the Nordic nations, selling clothes, groceries, cosmetics, furniture, jewelry — pretty much anything you would need for your home, dinner or to give as a gift.
With units ranging from the 1930s to brand new, Stockmann has a paternoster still used daily by employees. If you look closely at the Stockmann logo, you realize it is an escalator, reflecting the fact the store had Helsinki’s first escalator. Signs of KONE’s history are evident, as well, such as steel escalator steps emblazoned with both the KONE logo and that of its former partner, Germany’s O&K, which KONE acquired in 1995.
Escalators aren’t the only first for which Stockmann is famous: It was at Stockmann where Finns tasted their first Coca-Cola when Helsinki hosted the 1952 SummerOlympics and, a few years later, saw their first TV, Malin observes. Through the decades and until the 1980s, stylish female elevator attendants charmed shoppers. They returned for the store’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2012. (Although the current building was built in 1926-1930, the company began in 1862.)
In all, there are 38 KONE elevators and 56 KONE escalators. During 2005-2013, KONE provided 12 full elevator modernizations and 14 new elevators, including MonoSpace® Special, MiniSpaceTM and TranSysTM freight models. In 2016, KONE performed an additional five elevator modernizations and, this year, two.
Escalators refurbished or installed since 2005 include:
• Two Eco3000® escalators that replaced two moving walks in the grocery-store section
• Eight EcoModTM modernization packages and four new TravelMasterTM escalators in the department-store (clothing, housewares) section
• Two EcoMod modernization packages and two custom TravelMaster TINI models in the Academic Book Store.
KONE Communications Manager Hanna Rutanen explained what makes the TINI escalators so special:
“TINI refers to a titanium coating for stainless steel. It resembles shiny brass a lot. The original escalators had brass as a coating, but since that can’t be used anymore according to current regulations that deem it too soft, titanium was chosen for these escalators. The original escalators used brass and marble, following interior architect Alvar Aalto’s design and wish, and we wanted to follow the original design as closely as possible. This was insisted on by the Alvar Aalto Foundation (which owns the bookstore and café) and by the Alvar Aalto Museum Bureau. Fewer than 10 escalators using this original design were manufactured by KONE. That’s why they are so unique.”
KONE’s most recent work at Stockmann, which wrapped up this past June, was the modernization of the eight escalators using EcoMod. The VT system is intricate and efficient, easing shopping for the more than 17 million people who visit the store each year. Exploring the store and its VT system is an adventure and a trip through time. There is more to the system than meets the eye. Guiding your author and McMahon to a bank of elevators on the third floor, Malin observed:
“The elevators on this floor go very deep, because we also have two shopping floors underground and, below that, three floors of parking. It is actually 80-m deep, and there are all kinds of electricity systems and cables involved, so the entire system was very difficult to build. Sometimes, people complain when they’re waiting for an elevator to go from the shopping to the parking floors. They think, ‘How can it take this long? I’m only going one floor down.’ But really, they are going much farther.”
Traveling the very lowest to highest levels, the paternoster is charming with its woodgrain cabins and brass fixtures. Relatively modern signs warn against smoking in it and boarding it with children, goods or if you are handicapped or otherwise infirm. It states the maximum load is two average-sized people.
Watching it work, your author and her hosts observed many employees riding singly up and down. McMahon likened it to a “vertical escalator.” Since the unit moves at a leisurely pace, your author was able to easily hop on, take a ride, and hop off. That’s a good thing since, Malin said:
“If you don’t remember to step out when you see the floor, it goes through the ceiling then down to the cellar. It’s completely dark down there. But if you just stay calm and continue, it takes you back to where you need to be.”
The tour ended at Café Aalto, nestled behind the bookstore on the second floor. McMahon, who is from Chester, U.K., but has lived in Helsinki for the past 20 years, said the bookstore is his favorite place in Helsinki. It is a peaceful place where celebrities and high-ranking politicians can be seen regularly, if you look closely. The food in the café is not your average grilled cheese and milkshake fare. Rather, it has a touch of casual elegance with offerings such as the delicate Finnish Karelian pie and beautifully presented trout and salmon dishes.
McMahon said all the furnishings and fixtures for the café were purchased by Stockmann after the original café closed in the 1980s. All this was then given to the nonprofit Alvar Aalto Foundation. Like Stockmann and KONE, the café and bookstore are Helsinki institutions no one wants to see fade away. McMahon said:
“Many changes were done in the store, but some things you just have to keep, because Stockmann is a traditional company in many ways, a symbol of Finnish commerce and trade. It’s quite nice that Stockmann and KONE have this connection going back to the 1930s. We are both institutions in Finland, and it’s rare for institutions to have such a strong bond. That doesn’t happen very much, at least not these days.”
 Hingle, Emily, “Ain’t Dere No More,” Where Y’at, May 28, 2013.