It is set in 1942, during World War II, when Slovakia existed as an "independent" client state of the Nazis. The protagonist is Anton "Tono" Brtko, a rather unsuccessful carpenter who suffers from a hectoring, nagging wife Evelina, and an obnoxious brother-in-law, Markuš Kolkotský. Worse, Markus is a member of the Hlinka Guard, the fascist Slovak militia that supports the fascist Slovak government as well as the Nazis.
Kolkotský and his wife (Evelina's sister) come over for dinner one night, and after Kolkotský rubs his success in Tono's face, he reveals that Tono has been assigned to take over a Jewish shop as "Aryanization" requires stripping the Jews of all their property. Tono arrives to take possession of the shop, a little store dealing in sewing materials that belongs to an elderly Jew, Mrs. Lautmannová. Mrs. Lautmannová is half deaf and quite senile, has no idea that there's a war on and Jews are being persecuted, and completely fails to understand Tono, thinking that he's her nephew come to work in the shop. Tono strikes a deal with the local Jewish community in which he will allow Mrs. Lautmannová to live in the shop and continue to think that she owns it, in return for regular payments. In the meantime, he strikes up a friendship with the old lady—but that friendship is put to the test when the cattle cars come to take the town's Jews to concentration camps.
The Shop on Main Street was a big hit in 1965. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Used for a very surprising scene at the end. After realizing he has killed Mrs. Lautmannová, Tono stumbles into her apartment in the back. The camera proceeds to look for him. As Tono hides in various corners of the room, the camera scans around until it finds him. Tono gives the camera a guilty, shamed look, then goes to hide somewhere else, until the camera finds him again. Finally the camera pans to a hook in the hallway, then back to Tono, who nods at the camera, then proceeds to hang himself.
- Les Collaborateurs: The Hlinka Guard, the fascist Slovak militia. Markuš is the local commander.
- Day of the Jackboot: It's already happened—in Real Life, the fascist Slovakian puppet state had been a going concern for three years by this point—but the consequences are being driven home for the town's Jews, as they lose their property and are taken away.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Evelina is only too thrilled to be receiving a shop stolen from a Jew. While Tono is no fascist, even he matter-of-factly accepts the shop, and then the protection money the town's Jews give him.
- Downer Ending: Tono accidentally kills Mrs. Lautmannová. In a blind panic when he sees Kolkotský outside, he throws her into a closet, only to open it up and find she has fallen down and broken her neck. He then kills himself.
- Driven to Suicide: Tono hangs himself out of guilt after accidentally killing the old lady.
- Dying Dream: The final scene, where Tono and Mrs. Lautmannová stroll through the square in their fanciest clothes while a band plays, certainly seems like one of these.
- Evil Tower of Ominousness: The wooden tower being constructed in the town square. It turns out to be a monument to fascism and the Hlinka Guard, and it is completed shortly before the Jews are taken away.
- Final Solution: One small part of it, as the fascist militia comes to take away the town's Jews. In Real Life, almost none of the thousands of Slovak Jews deported during this period survived the war.
- Greedy Jew: Evelina is an old-fashioned central European anti-Semite. She's convinced that Mrs. Lautmannová has a pot of money hidden away somewhere, and pesters Tono about finding it. In fact Mrs. Lautmannová is being supported by donations from the Jewish community.
- Henpecked Husband: Evelina is constantly nagging Tono and pushing him around.
- I Need A Drink: Tono, panicked when the roundup of Jews begins, starts chugging a bottle of vodka.
- Toplessness from the Back: Tono's shrewish wife gets much, much friendlier after he starts bringing home some more cash. One shot from outside the window shows her taking her clothes off, pretty plainly getting ready for sex.
- Would Hit a Girl: After Evelina gets too pushy as she nags Tono about finding the money the old lady supposedly has hidden away, Tono snaps and slaps her around. Disturbingly, it works, as she promises to be nicer.