The Immeasurable Value of a Small-Town Baguette

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Dan Barry had an enjoyable column in the New York Times on Monday about the citizens of an economically depressed small town in New Hampshire who rallied behind the French owner of a local bakery after her visa renewal was denied. According to the State Department, Verlaine Daeron's business, Le Rendez-Vous, which had brought fresh baguettes and other, less tangible, benefits to the community of Colebrook, was "marginal" and did not have a "significant economic impact."

The townsfolk disagreed, and mobilized to save the bakery. Thousands of people signed a petition, Barry writes, and hundreds more sent letters to officials, pleading their case. Amazingly, their campaign worked; Daeron's visa was renewed.

I found the story particularly uplifting because I have come to recognize, in the four years since I moved from Los Angeles to a rural area dotted with towns much like Colebrook, the outsized importance a single special eatery can take on in a small community.

Sure, a cherished restaurant in New York City or San Francisco that disappears will be mourned. I still have wistful daydreams about the amazing couscous at a short-lived Moroccan place called Indigo Café, in Los Angeles. There were plenty of other great places to eat nearby, though. The city of Los Angeles did not register its disappearance, any more than it had noted its existence to begin with.

But in all those little towns across the country that have lost some of their luster with the decline of manufacturing jobs—the places where Zagat fears to tread—even if the local diner cooks up a mean burger, that's sometimes where the culinary options end. So the arrival of something like authentic baguettes—ones that, in the words of Barry, "all but dare you to tear at their heel before you’re out the door"—can change the way a community sees itself, and possibly even change its fortunes in some small way. Instead of passing through, travelers may find reason to stop. The town becomes more attractive to home buyers and investors.

I'm not talking about turning villages into quaint miniature versions of cities, although, to some old-timers' chagrin, that can be the case. One of the reasons the people of Colebrook embraced Le Rendez-Vous, according to Barry, was that when Daeron and her partner, Marc Ounis, opened the bakery, in 2001, "the couple wisely left out one ingredient: that sprinkling of judgment often added by people new to the region."

When done right, though, even if a business doesn't add enough jobs or taxes to compensate for closed factories or paper mills, it contributes something that can't be measured in dollars.

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