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The retirement of a Reykjavík legend

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Ask an Icelander who Magni R. Magnússon is and they might not know. Ask them if they’ve ever been to his store, Hjá Magna, however, and you’ll find that this is a Reykjavík experience almost every local has had.

Hjá Magna (“At Magni’s”) is nestled between the Síminn telephone shop and an upscale watchmaker’s store on the main shopping street, Laugavegur. In an area of town where the big brand names and corporate-owned souvenir stores rule, Magni’s little self-run shop of collectibles and games has withstood the tests of time and glittery advertising for over 25 years. Hopefully it will continue for 25 more – but without Magni; he’s retiring on October 1.

When someone asks me where they can go to buy an affordable souvenir, I send them to Magni. The shop floor only has enough room for about six customers at a time (if you stand close together) and the walls are piled high with stacks of every board game, puzzle, and map imaginable. (Scrabble is very big here.) You can buy old stamps or banknotes here, but you can also pick up that version of Icelandic Monopoly that you have always wanted. A more practical option might be a deck of Icelandic playing cards – since there are many choices, from Icelandic mammals to the sagas. And prices are always cheaper than at the big stores.

Magni himself is a big reason for visiting. Walk into his little shop, and you will instantly feel like you’ve brightened his day. He’ll make small talk with you in a number of different languages, and help you find exactly what you are looking for. Magni says he loves his business and his customers, and this is very clear from every visit, and from the number of Icelanders who have a fond word to say about him.

Magni says things in Iceland have changed a lot since he opened his first store with two colleagues back in 1964. At that time, opening on Saturday was prohibited unless you were a florist or selling souvenirs. The police suggested that Magni submit an application to the city council on the latter grounds, although he would be allowed to remain open while he waited for the application to be processed. “Well, I submitted the form”, he says, “but I’m still waiting for the reply”.

And now, after over 40 years as the most famous stamp and coin dealer in Iceland, Magni is taking his well-deserved retirement. Will there be a sale to mark the occasion? “No, I think I´m going to raise my prices!”, he jokes. “Business has doubled since I announced my retirement”. There will still be a games store at Laugavegur 15, though; Magni has sold to a young couple who will keep much of the same stock.

Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era. We’ll miss you, Magni.

ER [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.