Why the boulangerie, tabac and cordonnerie all have an important part to play in daily life in France
There’s something very satisfying about entering an independent shop and making a purchase which you know will help the owner (who is often the person behind the till) and their business directly. It’s a form of resistance against the big chains and corporations, and you know you are doing your bit for the local economy. It may be self-congratulatory on my behalf but it’s one of the small pleasures I enjoy in life. And there’s no better place to enjoy that than in France where the high streets are still lined with delightful independent shops.
These shops have always been around, it seems, and, in the age of internet shopping, next-day delivery and even peer-to-peer services, it can seem outdated to still have little outlets such as a maison de la presse (newsagent) or a cordonnerie (cobbler’s). While the French are sometimes criticised for not moving with the times fast enough, I find their attachment to tradition surprisingly refreshing and welcome these days. Knowing that your local boulanger woke with the rising sun to bake baguettes and shape croissants makes the bread taste even better.
Of course, France is not exempt from the appearance of chain stores, but a small group of indomitable commerces still hold out against the invaders – and are so ingrained in French life that they are likely to stick around (at least, I hope they do). The French call these independent stores ‘ petits commerces’ as opposed to ‘ grandes surfaces’ (supermarkets). They include local butchers, cheese mongers, tiny épiceries (grocery shops) and, of course, the subjects of this piece; beloved boulangeries, bureaux de tabac, and craftspeople’s shops such as cordonneries.