As Reykjavík’s oldest shopping street, Laugavegur, has evolved over the years; old shops have closed while new ones spring up constantly, but locals have always been able to count on getting their groceries at the legendary Vísir on Laugavegur 1.
The store has been in business for over 90 years inside an old wooden building, being one of very few remaining independent grocers in the capital.
The building, erected in 1848, has housed the grocery store since 1915, serving generations of citizens with their food supplies. Current owner, Þórir Sigurbjörnsson, bought the business from his father, Sigurbjörn Björnsson, in 1974, after having worked in the store since 1960. Now, 46 years later, you are still guaranteed to find him filling the shelves or standing behind the counter while enjoying the outside Laugavegur view and chatting with customers, most of whom he knows by name.
Even if small stores like this one are becoming as rare in the city as good weather, largely due to the proliferation of all-in-one supermarket chains, Vísir has been thriving for decades and its old charm stays the same.
“A lot has changed since the store first opened. Around the Second World War more families lived in the downtown area and bought their groceries at Vísir. After the war the neighbourhood started to shift and the number of inhabitants decreased. Instead of being a residential area, it turned into more of a business and shopping district with fashion boutiques, coffeehouses, restaurants and offices. At that same time, the product range increased substantially and locals saw for the first time a selection of fresh fruits and food that hadn’t been known in the country before,” Sigurbjörnsson tells the Grapevine.
To face the transition and growing competition, Vísir aims at having a diverse range of goods and now offers all sorts of convenient snacks customers can grab on their way to work as well as selling household necessities, bakery goods, noodle soups and sandwiches, fruits, dairy products, cleansers and soaps, pasta, candy and even quick meals to heat in the microwave. For those really in a hurry, the coffee to go costs only 150 ISK a cup.
“I think it is really important to maintain a variety in the city centre and in recent years I have witnessed some positive changes. Thanks to a growing number of tourists and with new shops opening up in the surroundings, the area is becoming more vibrant again. Naturally, that helps in making the business flourish,” Sigurbjörnsson adds.
Counting many regulars in the neighbourhood who return for the friendly and personal service, Vísir isn’t going anywhere. Buying groceries in this small store truly pulls you back to the past when it wasn’t as complicated to go shopping. If you are getting frustrated with supermarkets so big that you’re lucky to find the ketchup bottle you came to buy you need not worry. Vísir will probably stay the same until our grandchildren become repeat customers.
Vísir Grocery Store
Laugavegur 1, 101 Reykjavík
Opening hours: Monday-Friday from 8:00-18:00;
Saturday from 10:00-16:00.