Shops – especially local food suppliers – pubs and restaurants located in the downtown areas of small cities often cannot be run profitably and are therefore frequently replaced by malls and entertainment palaces on the edge of town. It is not only children, the older generation and people with limited mobility that are affected by these unpleasant changes, but also the community culture as a whole. Town centers are becoming deserted, and, with that, the sense of community and the feeling of solidarity among the population are fading.

When the last food retailer in the village had to close, the small municipality of Kirchstetten in Lower Austria was facing a similar fate. After the shop was closed for a few months, it seemed as if the fate of many other smaller cities would repeat itself in Kirchstetten.

However, the citizens showed commitment: To protect the run-down store from its final closure, the citizens formed a cooperative and took over the management of the food store. This not only ensured that a central shopping facility remained in the municipality but also created a meeting place and a forum for the citizens.

Let us have a look at how it all began: The municipality of Kirchstetten is located abound 15km east of St. Pölten, the capital of the province of Lower Austria. After the last local food supplier of Kirchstetten was closed, citizens began to realize that they were losing not just a store, but the social center of the village. That is why plans were made for the rescue of the local food supplier: Large retail chains refrained from taking over the shop because of high financial risks. The municipality, with its mayor Paul Horsak, supported the final option: The citizens of Kirchstetten had run the business themselves.

As a result, “Nahversorger Kirchstetten Genossenschaft” (Kirchstetten food supplier cooperative) was born.

While the citizens of Kirchstetten are responsible for day-to-day management, representatives of the municipality have supervisory responsibilities only. The municipality restored the shop facilities and contributed that investment to the cooperative; it also subscribed 100 shares at €100. So far, roughly 100 households have joined the cooperative.

The cooperative project in Kirchstetten rests on three main pillars. First, an experienced partner in the food sector was taken on board. Second, the province of Lower Austria provides financial support to the cooperative. Last but not least, the success of the cooperative certainly depends on its members. Not only have they contributed capital to the cooperative in the form of shares, but, more importantly, they have provided volunteer work and commitment. In addition to financial participation and unpaid work, the involvement of the citizens brings about another major benefit. With a cooperative, the identification with the project increases, and a certain degree of self-interest emerges! While former shop owners were always viewed with envy, residents are no longer accused of profit making.

Since the people of Kirchstetten have a certain interest in a solid sales performance, more shopping is done in the new store. Revenues, which are expected to be safe because of this customer loyalty, are expected to meet operating costs in the medium term, thus securing an efficient food supply for the citizens. Many customers and members of the cooperative also appreciate that the reopening of the store has also brought with it a new meeting point for the citizens. Furthermore, new jobs have been created as five employees were hired in addition to the numerous helpers who contributed countless hours of voluntary work to the project.

In a nutshell: The cooperative project does not only secure the local food supply for the citizens of Kirchstetten, but it also has a positive effect on the sense of community, the quality of life and social life in the municipality.

The pride which the citizens of Kirchstetten feel for what they have achieved as a community is reflected in the store motto: Wir sind Genossenschaft! We are the cooperative!