An increasing number of villages in many countries do not have any local supplier at all. In the retail sector of Germany, the large supermarket companies require at least 5,000 inhabitants in the catchment area to run a shop. The aim of this paper is to describe the contribution of village shops to local supply and social life as well as to assess their economic viability. Therefore, findings from a telephone survey of approximately 100 shop operators in Germany are presented. The results show the limited supply and social function of the shops as well as their precarious economic situation. Many shops only offer a small range of goods so that the coverage of basic needs is difficult and they are mostly visited for supplementary purchases. Most village shops provide a snack area as a meeting place, but these are relatively seldom used. The findings indicate that permanent public and civic support is required to sustain many small shops in small villages. Because of the market conditions, however, public initiatives cannot halt the trend towards increasing numbers of ‘food deserts’; at best they can slow down the process. Where village shops cannot be sustained economically, home delivery services, mobile supermarkets or improved mobility services are feasible options for assuring local supply for less mobile people.
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