How German Tourists Saved A Village Store in Northern Sweden

How German Tourists Saved A Village Store in Northern Sweden

This article was originally published by the Swedish Ecotourism Society / Nature's Best (18 April 2013).

 

Solberget Wilderness Retreat

Photo By: Solberget Wilderness Resort

 

Ecotourism's Positive Role in the Economy of Rural Nattavaara, Sweden 

NattavaaraLast fall, Nattavaara residents were told that the village store was closing. Suddenly, they had to go 50 km to the nearest shop - a mortal blow to a small community in rural northern Sweden. But, the area's ecotourism organizer, Dirk Hagenbuch, wasn't ready to give up. The villagers and former German tourists mobilized a successful rescue.

 

Just over two hundred people live in the small village of Nattavaara near the Iron Ore Line, fifty kilometres south of Gällivare in the far north of Sweden. Five years ago, the school was closed, and last fall the shop owners threw in the towel. Admittedly they turned a bit of a profit, but after thousands of workdays for 30 years and almost no leisure time, the couple that owned the store wanted to try something else. There were two prospective buyers, but they didn’t pass the bank's requirements, and on the 31st of October the sign was taken down.

 

Protecting the rural economy has always been important for Dirk Hagenbuch and his company Solberget Wilderness Retreat. Every year, the company bought dairy products, vegetables, cold cuts and other items for ten thousand euros or more from the Nattavaara village store. The shop is part of the village’s necessary infrastructure.  

 

"But after the closure last fall, we realized that it is not just about avoiding long car trips. The village store is a social hub where people meet and talk about the latest news. Suddenly an important physical meeting place was disappearing, and that, the village cannot afford," says Dirk Hagenbuch as he launched his rescue operation.

 

Dirk Hagenbuch

In January of this year, 58 people from the Nattavarra vicinity formed an economic association to operate a new grocery store in the village. They held a meeting that adopted bylaws, elected a board with Dirk Hagenbuch as chairman and decided to collect around 47,000 euros in equity. Two hundred units at around 235 euros each would be sold to private individuals who wanted to become a partner in the general store north of the Arctic Circle. It was here Solberget Wilderness Retreat’s previous guests came into the picture.

 

"I sent an email to all my previous guests, the majority of which live in Germany. They have been here and experienced our arctic cold, walked in Muddus or enjoyed the early spring sunshine in the sparkling snow. The visitors have a relationship with our region, and now they've shown how much that means to them. In just a few weeks, previous guests bought shares for over 16,500 euros, and more than a third of the initial capital was collected," says Dirk Hagenbuch. 

 

The village store in Nattavaara will open again in June. "This is an important victory for Nattavaara and shows that tourism is an increasingly important force to safeguard rural areas' infrastructure," says Dirk Hagenbuch. "We want to create a tourism involving, engaging and building bridges between cities and rural areas. In some cases it may even become a force in rescuing a small business somewhere far away in Norrland’s interior."

 

 

 

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