In many places, village shops are the last social meeting places for locals. But the shops are also struggling to survive.
They represent a romantic contrast to the fast-moving, urban consumer behavior: the village shops. Always bigger, always more? Not in the cute little shops where you can hardly get past each other with a shopping trolley.
The number of requests for mountain assistance is rising sharply
But even if the narrow shopping aisles may trigger a feeling of homeliness in some visitors from the city: Shops in small villages have a hard time. In many places people are fighting for survival. They often cannot keep up with the special offers of the wholesalers, which means that their customer base, which is not particularly large anyway, is becoming even smaller – those who are mobile often prefer to go shopping to the supermarket in the next larger town.
If a village shop is up to its neck financially, the operator can apply to the Swiss Mountain Aid Foundation for support. The number of such applications has recently increased significantly. The foundation has supported 54 village shop projects in the last ten years, 30 of them since 2019 alone.
A renovation for 150,000 francs
Without this help, many of these shops would have had to close. Also the one in St. Peterzell in the St. Gallen Neckertal. Melanie Knechtle and partner Christian Näf have been running the shop since last August, when the previous owners retired. Old fixtures, new coolers, freshly painted walls: the work was varied. The costs – including the first replenishment of the range – amounted to around 150,000 francs.
“We received 40,000 francs from mountain aid. We could use that, because a bank loan was not possible without the necessary collateral,” explains Christian Näf. The amount is à fonds perdu. But not just like that: Those responsible have to fill out a concept, forms and questionnaires to prove that the store is self-supporting. Berghilfe carefully checks every application.
Social aspect extremely important
It is also important for the village communities that the shops are preserved. Especially in villages where butchers, bakeries and pubs have disappeared, the shops serve as a social meeting place for the residents.
“Sometimes you almost have the feeling that you are the psychiatrist behind the counter,” says Melanie Knechtle. “A lot of people still like to exchange a few words with us.”
Your shop in St. Peterzell is therefore a meeting point, café, post office and shopping opportunity all in one. “If the store went down, it would be bad,” says a customer. Thanks to the financial support from Berghilfe, closing the shop is not an issue for the time being – Melanie Knechtle hopes that it will even make some profit in about a year.