In the village of Torna Hällestad more than a hundred local residents went in together as shareholders in a venture to bring back a local grocery store. That store is now thriving and has expanded beyond groceries to also include freshly baked bread, an award-winning brunch, a dinner restaurant, and even takeaway. In addition, with support from the EU, the store is planning to arrange tourism activities in collaboration with local businesses and people.
The story of Torna Hällestad Lanthandel begins in 2012 with the closing of Villes Varumarknad, which had served as the local community’s grocery store for forty years. After an entire year without a local grocer, villagers came to understand the importance of a local store, so when the premises went up for sale, they joined together to create a limited liability company in order to buy the property. Of the village's approximately 500 inhabitants, 130 families became shareholders. The new village general store, Torna Hällestad Lanthandel, was opened in 2014 by Anders Hammar and Jens Formare, with Per-Anders Hjort joining as a partner in 2016.
Nowadays when you enter Torna Hällestad Lanthandel, you are met by the smell of freshly baked bread and coffee. Already in the morning the shop is bustling with customers enjoying coffee and fresh baked goods or browsing the well-stocked fresh vegetable selection. Villagers are able to find everything from everyday items to fancy cheeses and deli meats. The store also offers locally produced products - including an exclusive light beer, which is brewed in the village’s own brewery.
Per-Anders Hjort explains the growth of the store:
”The bakery is extremely important for us and we have freshly baked bread every day. Anders Hammar previously led Garagebageriet [the village bakery], but when he got the chance he decided he would rather be here. As this is a small village, we also began thinking about ways to attract people here from outside the village. The first additional activity in which we invested was Saturday brunch. In the very beginning only about ten people were coming, but then we were named the best brunch in the entire region of Skåne in 2016 by the Metro newspaper. From that day onward the town square was packed with cars. The first time this happened we had to scramble to find a makeshift solution in order to feed all of the guests. But now we are prepared for the hundred guests that normally come for brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays.”
In 2018, the partners decided to invest in starting a proper restaurant. According to Hjort, “With the help of chef Ola Liljenberg, we are now alternating between serving a three-course menu and a simple menu on weekends. In addition, we have catering, takeaway, and recipes with prepackaged ingredients for making dinner at home. We can also arrange large-scale events, like Oktoberfest.”
Torna Hällestad Lanthandel represents an idyllic, old-fashioned general store, but when you scratch the surface you also see that it is full of modern ideas. For example, the restaurant and the well-stocked vegetable shelves are connected. The restaurant reduces waste by using goods and products sold in the store and can even make use of goods that are approaching their expiration date.
The interest in the bakery and the restaurant has inspired the group behind the general store to begin thinking in a new way. Given the small customer base within the village, the group has been working on building an additional clientele of visitors. By collaborating with other actors in the village, they are looking to develop the local hospitality industry. The idea is to offer tours in the village and surrounding areas, which would finish with food. These could be a cultural hike, a trip to meet local food producers or a visit to the local 12th century church. Torna Hällestad Lanthandel is also collaborating with the Tolvan community centre and the Trollskogen hostel to offer daytime conferences. To market and develop this, the village has received 1.9 million Swedish crowns from the European Network for Rural Development’s LEADER programme.
“We want to collaborate with as many actors as possible, as this produces a greater impact than if we work individually,” says Hjort. “We’ve gotten off to a great start and need to keep moving forward. It is not easy to just run a grocery store.”
Torna Hällestad Lanthandel has also created local job opportunities. In addition to five full-time employees, between 10 and 12 young people work as hourly employees.
Hjort emphasizes that the reason all of this has happened is that Torna Hällestad has a special village identity and a strong commitment from local residents. Thirty years ago, a large group of local families jointly purchased the Tolvan community centre, which remains active to this day with more than a hundred members. Additionally, the village’s old school was revived with the help of local parents so that today fifty students have the opportunity to go to primary school within the village. This high level of community engagement is visible in many ways at Torna Hällestad Lanthandel. Local residents help with major cleaning events at the store, work in the garden, and assist with large-scale events.
As Hjort puts it, “The feeling that we can achieve so much together is what makes the village work so well. There is no one person who will get rich from this, but the important thing is that our Lanthandel contributes to a thriving village and that it remains financially viable. Here we have such a great sense of community and engagement that we can choose the direction of our own future. There will be many more opportunities to create common solutions to meet the needs of the village.”
Main image caption:
Anders Hammar, Jens Formare and Per-Anders Hjort are joint owners of Torna Hällestad Lanthandel.