In the land of the baguette, local bakeries are vanishing

LA CHAPELLE-EN-JUGER: The lights inside the village bakery used to come on before dawn, an hour or so before the smell of baking bread would waft into neighbors’ homes. The store door would soon be heard, opening and closing, the rhythm as predictable as the life stirring ‘awake across the French countryside. But everything changes.
“Without bread, there is no more life,” said Gérard Vigot, standing across the street from the now shuttered bakery. “This is a dead village.”
Two years ago, the 650 residents of La Chapelle-en-Juger lost their bakery, where they could meet one another, chitchat and gossip while waiting in line for their daily baguette or their weekend éclairs. For the community, the closing of the bakery was “un drame,” as one newspaper put it, or a tragedy, one that is being repeated in countless French villages.
Young people are no longer drawn to the long hours of the traditional bakers who live above their store. Shopping malls have taken root on the periphery of rural areas, drawing in people who are content to buy at supermarkets. Customers, especially youngsters, are not eating as much bread.
Traveling in rural France these days means spotting closed bakeries. It means encountering people mentioning with relief that their village still has one. Given the centrality of bread in France, and its links to its religious practices and political history, the vanishing of traditional bakeries has also come to symbolise the waning of the country’s rich village life.
“An unprecedented wave of bakery closures,” one local newspaper said with alarm. But a quick scan of the headlines in local newspapers reveals similar “tragedies” in many corners. Vending machines have sometimes popped up in towns where bakeries have closed.
In La Vendelée, Vincent Lenoir’s daughter hopped out of their minivan to get a premade baguette from a machine that resembled a telephone booth. The vanishing bakeries are “killing our villages”, Lenoir said. Without a bakery, La Chapelle-en-Juger was turning into a lifeless bedroom town, some of the residents said. “We’re no longer in contact with the other inhabitants. It was the only meeting point left,” said Hélène Collard

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