We went into town this morning bearing fruit to say goodbye to Joelle and Jean-Jacques before they closed the doors of their librarie and maison de la presse for the last time.
Throngs of friends and loyal clients, who couldn’t keep their business afloat, were nevertheless there to wish them well and offer condolences. Conversations among all of us and in the other boutiques in town were the same, “among all of the poignant markers of progress, this is one of the saddest.”
I asked Jean-Jacques how it was possible that the mayor could put them in this position when they had offers from non press retailers to buy their boutique. “There was a law passed in 2007 that was supposed to protect small businesses,” he said. “The idea was that in towns like this there would be a certain mix of shops and services and it is up to the mayor to decide what is acceptable in the mix.”
He further explained that the municipality can buy the walls of a business at the market price, but the “market price” is rather nebulous when there is no business within its walls.
(I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what he told me.)
Duchesse noted that Pierre, my jeweller, who made beautiful pieces and redesigned unattractive family bijoux, left town a few years ago and, once again, the mayor prevented him from selling to a buyer whose boutique didn’t fit into the mayor’s image of the town. He closed shop, painted the inside of the display windows white and waited. Eventually he sold the space to a small bistro.
Joelle and Jean-Jacques live over their boutique so we will see them, but the conviviality, harmless local gossip, politics and casual conversations about the latest books will no longer have a spontaneous rendez-vous location.