Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thank You Big Little Store

Our big little store isn’t so big, but lack of space doesn’t mean lack of merchandise. On the contrary you can find the most amazing array of items here.
To start with there is no shortage of toilet paper. There is a regular supply of eggs, flour, butter, pastas, and fruit juices. You can still purchase cleaning supplies with bleach to calm your anxieties.

This little store is not small because it is a gourmet specialty shop. This is a rough and tumble country store that caters to a wide range of culinary tastes. Yet sometimes gourmet it is. We can purchase farm direct goat cheese, yogurt, cassoulet, duck confit and foie gras. The fruit and vegetables selection is a bit limited because they only sell things that are seasonally available, but what they have is top quality. Imagine our excitement when this past week strawberries showed up for the first time since last October. Strawberries from just over the hill. Strawberries bright red and oh so sweet. All year the bananas are different every week —different countries, different sizes— but they always have a delicious creamy banana flavor. The meat selection is a bit “French” for me, but it too is sourced locally. Back when deliveries were less complicated there was fresh fish every Friday.
In addition to to all of that proper food there are baking ingredients for the most exacting baker, Italian flavors, Oriental flavors, Mexican flavors, an organic section, sodas, beers, and, what a wine selection! (mostly regional of course - and inexpensive/cheap). This store even has hardware and essential household goods. Last year they had, and sold, a television.

I’ve listed this plethora of essentials one can buy and yet what the big little store is most full of is concern and commitment to the community.

The most important ingredient of the big little store are its owners, Monique and Pascal. 

Monique and Pascal work hard.

Lately they have risen to the challenge to work even harder. It started way back when President Macron stated that confinement in France would start the next day at noon. People flooded into the store in a small village version of a tidal wave of panic buyers. Pascal likes the shelves of his shop to be totally stocked at all times and he watched breathlessly as things were flying off the shelves faster than he could refill them.

Ever since then Pascal and Monique have been running - well sort of in place, but pretty much exerting the same energy as a marathon.

One morning a few days into the “long duration,” the little grocery had the uncomfortable task of telling the morning regulars they had to have their morning coffee as take out. They drank their brew in front of the store. This led to a visit from the gendarmes, coffee consumption moved to around the corner of the building, and the placing of tape on the sidewalk. The tape shows where folks can stand in relation to the front door and to each other. 

Monique and Pascal have also added tape to the floor inside so we know where to stand to check out and they have added plastic windows between us and them. Poor things still have to deal with all of us. Our request, our payments, our therapy sessions. So far they have been able to continue to joke and tease.

Now a days one overhears Pascal on the phone pleading with his vendors and reaching out to new ones. He is doing whatever it takes to keep our big little store well stocked. He is succeeding. Honestly there is not one thing coming up short and the selection is as good or better than ever. 

One day when he wasn’t sure when the next supply truck would arrive Pascal was teasing me about Tom running out of Corn Flakes. He finally said. “Susan, look behind the other cereal boxes, I hid the last box of Corn Flakes for Tom.”  Another panic Pascal had was when he knew he had sold the last package of hotdogs. And it wasn't to Tom. Monique and Pascal are convinced that Tom lives on hotdogs and Corn Flakes and two bananas a day. I don’t know who they think eats all the other items I buy - they don’t have time to think about that— but they do have time to tell me on the way out the door “we’ll have hotdogs again soon - promise.”

Except for Pascal, no one is in a rush any more. If there is already one person in the big little store you wait patiently outside. Depending on the temperature you might wait on the sunny side of the street or the shady side. Monique keeps an eye out on the queue and chatters to us from her perch at the register, calling us in when the coast is clear. It’s been a good time to catch up with a few folks I haven’t seen all winter (confinement isn’t really much different from normal Bourdeilles hibernation). Some folks you just nod to and stand next to for a long quiet time. It’s funny how it’s the dads that show up around 11:45 to pick up missing things for the midday meal. I guess it is worth standing in line for awhile to get away from cooped-up children.

As shoppers we all come and go as quickly as we can. Monique and Pascal are there all day. I don’t know how they do it. I worry that one of them will get sick. They are truly irreplaceable to our small village. I can not thank them enough for being there. It’s little but we get more than can be imagined from the big little store in our small village here in a funny country corner of France.

Some fun foodies to check out:
Majorie R. Williams Exploring the World of Food, Antiques and Crafts -

Susan Herrmann Loomis On Rue Tatin - it was the caramelized oranges that inspired me recently....


Lynne said...

Would love a visit there . . .
Some people are simply golden!
Stay happy and well . . .

Jeanie said...

My friend Lynne from Irish Garden House said "you need to visit here." She knew I would love it, as she knows my passion for France. And oh, how I do. What remarkable people are your Pascal and Monique. (And I have to say, just about anyone in my Michigan neighborhood would kill to shop there!) It's a pleasure to meet you!

Jeanie said...

P.S. -- I don't suppose Tom has any relatives named Jane Vieth who live in Lansing, MI? If so, this world would be way too small and wonderful!

Kay said...

I was deleting old websites from my computer and found this one. I don't remember ever saving your blog, but I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed reading your latest post. I live in the USA, in Florida, which is a world away from France, but reading about the big little store reminded me how we are all experiencing the same thing, more or less. You write very well and I look forward to reading your other posts. Kay Lopez