Business

‘I turned down 50,000 francs to rent my shop during Davos’

Catherine Kull Bineschedler

"I was offered 50,000 Swiss francs (£40,000) last year by a Japanese firm to rent my shop out during Davos," Catherine Kull Bineschedler tells the BBC.

"But I would like to keep my shop open for people living here. It's sad because it's all become about money, money, money during Davos."

MOB, her clothing boutique on Davos Promenade, is one of just a few local shops that refuses to hire out their premises during the World Economic Forum (WEF) - the high-end business conference that is held in the Swiss Alps every January.

Hundreds of stores are taken over by big international firms like Facebook, Accenture and HSBC for the week and turned into branded outposts, while local landlords are said to get paid handsome fees.

But Ms Kull Bineschedler believes this corporate "invasion" leaves many of Davos's around 11,000 year-round residents in limbo, with hardly any places to shop, eat, or even go for a coffee.

She also thinks preparation for WEF - which begins in mid December - makes life "impossible" for many residents, as temporary conference buildings are put up, lorry shipments come in and out, and thousands of soldiers and police descend upon the small Alpine town.

"My daughter can't even work for two weeks because of WEF," says Ms Kull Bineschedler. "She is a figure skating coach, but the council of Davos rents out the training hall she uses, so she doesn't get paid."

Pub for locals

The Ex Bar pub is another business on Davos Promenade that refuses to rent out its premises during WEF, although it does have a backroom lounge that can be booked by delegates.

Manager Sabrina Wealte says the pub could make lot more money if it took the offers it got, but stays open for "normal people who live here".

"It's cool during WEF, you meet people from around the world. But we want to cater for local people too - it's been that way for 50 years."

Of course, the renting out of stores is a big boost for the local economy, which depends heavily on tourism. And the bigger the premises - and closer it is to the main conference centre - the more a big business will pay to use it as it seeks to maximise its publicity.

That said, one or two shops that are still open as usual on the Promenade say they make more by not shutting their doors. The manager of a luxury watch shop, for example, tells me the week of WEF can be one of his best, as the wealthy delegates tend to like buying high-end goods.

Huge changes

Meanwhile, Esther Heldstab, who manages the souvenir shop Swiss Alpine Fantasy, says she has been offered the equivalent of a year's rent to hire out her premises, but she couldn't deal with the stress of having to pack everything away.

"I probably make 20% less than if I had rented it, but so be it," she told the BBC.

Jens Scheer, who manages Restaurant Gentiana, doesn't rent out his premises because it's a period building and could get damaged. But he is conscious of the huge changes wrought upon the town by WEF.

"Over 30 shops on the Promenade are empty all year round, just so they can be rented out during WEF, because that's enough for them. It's not the best for the city but it's a trend you can't stop."

A spokesman for the WEF said: "The annual meeting does inevitably cause some inconvenience for shoppers, however the overall impact is positive."

He added: "In 2019, the town voted in a local referendum to keep supporting the meeting by the widest margin yet."

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