Kiosk dying: “Since liquorice costs 7 cents, my sales have collapsed”


They were our window to the world. The land of milk and honey of our childhood. When there was pocket money, we thought for a long time whether we should invest the pennies at the kiosk in pacifiers and liquorice – or take the cherries because they were so fun to cheat on. Most of the time we took a couple of each.

Later we got comics and soccer pictures there, and even later newspapers and cigarettes. The big world was before us – although it was actually small, not 15 square meters.

When Thomas Althoff remembers the old days, his eyes light up. His family has been running the kiosk at the Walsroder town hall (Lower Saxony) for 43 years, open seven days a week. From 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekends from 6 a.m. Sometimes you need free time.

In 1991, the now 60-year-old took over the business from his father. Now he’s thinking about quitting. The city wants to rebuild the town hall square and has terminated his lease. And through Corona he has lost many former regular customers. “Many have stayed away since the lockdown.”

The corner shops have long since closed. And the kiosks are slowly dying. Only when they have completely disappeared will we realize how a piece of culture has been lost here.


Cover slip: “It” stands for “the Italian”, as Althoff puts it.  He always buys tobacco on credit

Cover slip: “It” stands for “the Italian”, as Althoff puts it. He always buys tobacco on creditPhoto: Holger Karkcheck

Kiosks are more than local shops. They are beacons in everyday life, social melting pots, as democratic institutions almost as important as our parliaments – and much closer to the people’s voice.

“Everyone comes to me, from bums to city managers. And when Grindel was still head of the DFB, he always fetched the newspapers that reported on him from me,” says Althoff. Drafi Deutscher († 60) used to be one of the regular customers – as well as his manager who runs the local brothel.


Colorful bag: the most important tool for Althoff is the candy tongs

Colorful bag: the most important tool for Althoff is the candy tongsPhoto: Holger Karkcheck


Kiosk dying: “Since liquorice costs 7 cents, my sales have collapsed”
Photo: BILD

Oh yes, earlier. Business was good. Back then. The Althoffs have 5,000 items, a discounter has around 2,000. The range has changed significantly. “For example, no one buys postcards anymore.” Althoff looks devastated. It has that in common with the yellowed postcards outside in the revolving stand (“Lüneburg Heath – in harmony with nature”).


In the past, customers even wrote him holiday greetings

In the past, customers even wrote him holiday greetingsPhoto: Holger Karkcheck


In 1998, Althoff (r.) won the nationwide dealer competition from BILD am Sonntag.  1st prize: a cruise for 14,000 marks

In 1998, Althoff (r.) won the nationwide dealer competition from BILD am Sonntag. 1st prize: a cruise for 14,000 marksPhoto: Holger Karkcheck

Newspaper sales are also declining. “Young people do everything digitally these days,” he grumbles and rummages around in his trouser pocket for his worn-out button cell phone. “Not me.”



“Well, I can’t read newspapers digitally,” says kiosk boss AlthoffPhoto: Holger Karkcheck

customers come. A young man. “I’d like a Capri sun.” Makes 60 cents in sales. A lady is after sweets. Althoff uses his metal tongs to count out 25 sour moons, each worth seven cents. “Since we raised the price for liquorice from 5 to 7 cents, sales have collapsed,” says Althoff. He can’t keep up with the supermarket prices.


Sour Cola bottles, cherries and pacifiers cost seven cents.  The lollipops 20 cents each

Sour Cola bottles, cherries and pacifiers cost seven cents. The lollipops 20 cents eachPhoto: Holger Karkcheck

He makes most of his sales with cigarettes and tobacco. But even that is becoming less and less. Coffee brings the most profit. “Cup 1 euro, jug 1.80 euros”. Only outside, of course, inside there is no space.


Best source of income coffee: cup 1 euro, pot 1.80 euros

Best source of income coffee: cup 1 euro, pot 1.80 eurosPhoto: Holger Karkcheck

Althoff is a trained baker and then served in the German army for four years. But the hardest job is probably in the kiosk. His stepmother supports him, there is not enough for more staff.

On good days before Corona, 450 customers came, on bad days he sometimes stands up for 78 (there is no chair). Althoff knows the preferences of most of them, the dialogues then go, we are in northern Germany, like this:

Althoff: “Good morning.”

Customer: “Twice.”

Althoff hands two packs of cigarettes through the window, the customer pays.

Both: “Bye.”

If you’re short on cash, you can write to them. Althoff keeps a tally. “Try that in the supermarket,” he says. By the end of 2023, Petra (three dashes at 1.39 euros) and “the Italian” (six dashes at 34.95 and 2 euros each) should have paid off their debts. Then Althoff could close his window for the last time.

The world that ends then is small. But it’s still a whole world.

From the milk stand to the Pils-Stübchen

They are called Kiosk, Büdchen, Trinkhalle or Späti: there are still around 40,000 in Germany – a decrease of ten percent since 2018.


The Walsroder town hall kiosk has existed since 1979

The Walsroder town hall kiosk has existed since 1979Photo: Holger Karkcheck

According to the 2021 kiosk study by Globis Consulting, there is a “general dying of kiosks”.

95 percent of the kiosk operators are lone wolves, mostly family businesses without employees. About 70 percent are managed by people with a migration background. The average daily turnover was recently estimated at around 390 euros.

The heyday of drinking halls began at the end of the 19th century – with the serving of mineral water.

Milk stalls were added later. And much later kiosks with flasks and beer cans in the range.

.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *