Our local baker is closing. We've been buying our baguettes, croissants and pains aux chocolats there for over twenty years. Our children spent their first centimes on crocodiles, spaceships and sticky gooey bears. Sunday mornings laden down with fruit and veggies from the local market the line outside stretched down the road, the young women serving us were always ready to weigh the latest chunk of spongy dark tasty bread cut from the massive loaf on the shelf, to box up the patisseries - the éclairs of all flavours, fraisiers, opéras and millefeuilles, while Madame surveyed, keeping both her staff in order, shouting through the door to her husband for more supplies, and wishing each and every customer a bon week-end. Twenty years on there is now a baguette named after the baker and a collection of prize cups displayed in the window.
When we heard the news we assumed the worst. The boulangerie would close, be sold on to the highest bidder (it has a stunning 1890’s shop front), the baker and his wife would retire on their much deserved handsome golden handshake and yet another community institution which brought this disparate neighbourhood together, provided space for local gossip, less local intrigue and informed conversation (first girlfriends, anti-semitic comics, French youth fighting in Syria …) while delighting our palates would be gone. We imagined a short-lived gimmick shop selling imported cheap items from China, a snack shop rolling out cut-price sandwiches and cartons of pasta, or yet another boutique peddling more attractive but useless cups, notebooks, corkscrews and pet bowls.
Breathe a sigh of relief. We were wrong. The boulangerie will close for ten days and re-open under the leadership of the next generation. The baker’s son will take on this thriving business, its success not only embedded in its ability to maintain tradition, a personal-touch and delight in quality but also to move with the times, to adapt to the changing demographics of the neighbourhood: sell sandwiches to tourists visiting Paris’ version of the High Line, constantly refine and redefine the range of breads, innovate to meet the demands of child minders when school is out, respond to the smart dinner party crowd in need of the chic dessert to seduce their guests – running in and demanding the best at 8 pm as the shops shuts. And through all that, the essential baguette, croissant and pain au chocolat remain unchanged. The heart of the business serving all generations, classes, colours and ideologies, innovating with the community while also serving as its glue.
Change is inevitable. Enabling change to take place where innovation shares benefits across society and endures across time remains a massive challenge. One that our boulangerie was able to meet. An example to follow.