A nation of shopkeepers…or a small town with small shops

Depending on your point of view, it was either Napoleon or Adam Smith who first called England ‘a Nation of Shopkeepers’

But it was only after I came to settle here in France that I started to think of shopkeeping and market trading as  skilled occupations, and realised just what is involved in keeping the customer happy.

It’s probably because it’s just so much easier, where we live in England, to nip down to the supermarket.  There weren’t too many independent shops on our daily round:  so much for a nation of shopkeepers.  Mind you, we loved it when Emily was a Saturday girl at the French patissier who was then in Harrogate, Dumouchel. She would often be sent home with a couple of unsold petits gateaux for us to enjoy,  or some slowly-fermented sourdough bread.  It was small shop, and quite expensive, so she learnt quickly to value customers and to treat them well, so they’d come back.  She learnt too that while most of the people she served were friendly and appreciative, customers could be curmudgeonly too.

The baker's - busy at lunchtime

So who are the good commerçants here?  Well, down at the bakers, they’ll often put aside our much-loved pain noir without being asked if I’m not in bright and early, knowing we’d be disappointed if they sold out.

Buying cheese at the market

Today at the market, madame who runs the cheese and charcuterie stall had printed off some recipes specially for me, because she knew I might enjoy trying them out.

Down at Bobines et Fantaisies, she goes to Toulouse most weeks to seek out unusual scarves and accessories, so there’s always something new and worth trying at her tiny shop. ‘Let her try it on.  If she doesn’t like it, bring it back!’, she’ll insist, as you dither between a bracelet, a couple of scarves and a chic but cosy winter hat.  These shopkeepers remember us, our tastes, our whims and foibles. They welcome us, and chat cheerfully with us, even if we leave the shop empty-handed.

Madame at Bobines et Fantasies helps me choose a few presents

There’s just one shop here that doesn’t cut the mustard. ‘Il n’est pas commerçant’ we all grumble.  Those of us outside the select band are routinely ignored, and as we feel our custom isn’t valued, some of us now go elsewhere.

But not to the supermarket.  Oh no.  Yesterday we DID pop into one, but as the muzak system was belting out a schmaltzy version of ‘Auld lang syne’ in what passed for English, we very soon shot out again.  Small Shops Rule OK.



2 thoughts on “A nation of shopkeepers…or a small town with small shops”

  1. I bet it takes a lot of self-control sometimes to stick with the smaller shops, especially if you know you can save lots of money a short drive away. Garrison Keillor wrote: “Free enterprise runs on self interest. This is socialism and it runs on loyalty . . . if people were going to live by comparison shopping, the town would go bust . . . If you live there you have to take it as a whole. That’s loyalty.”

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    1. It’s not that hard. We DO use supermarkets a bit, for some of the basics. But once you’ve got used to the idea of not jumping in the car, the pleasures of local shopping outweigh the disadvantages. And as for food, we’ve all got used to having it cheap, when actually, it’s one of the most important things that we spend our money on. You’ll have gathered we live the simple life here: one of the choices we can therefore make is to be loyal to those who offer a service to our community, rather than putting money in the way of multi-nationals who take their profits away from the area to wherever the head office is situated. End of sermon.

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