Today we are featuring a different kind of food challenge, one that is being repeated in small family owned restaurants and stores throughout the country on a daily basis. This is the challenge of staying in business in our troubled economy while battling large chain stores and restaurants that have so homogenized our nation’s landscape that one can’t tell the difference between a retail strip in Connecticut and California.
A friend of mine pointed me to an article about a local baker that is losing the battle and thought that perhaps I could use this website to bring some much needed attention to his, and so many other local business owners’ plight. Although Best Food Challenges isn’t typically in the habit of publishing such a post, I feel compelled to lend a hand.
The Bake Shoppe is a small neighborhood bakery just a few blocks walk from the town center. It is easy to pass by unnoticed as people rush up the hill headed for the likes of Stop and Shop, Price Chopper, Wal-Mart and Target. But by doing so they are missing out on what makes Torrington the community it is and always has been.
A bakery has stood at 280 East Main Street in Torrington, Connecticut for 73 years according to owner John Parent, but unless our community rallies around this little oasis of local flavor that could soon end. Already John has had to cut back on his wholesale business, and is now closed Tuesday through Thursday except by appointment. As it happens, I was unaware of hours of operation and stopped by on a Wednesday. Despite the door being locked John came out and welcomed me into the shop, where I was greeted by proudly displayed cookies and pastries. Try getting Stop and Shop to open its doors when they are closed. Such hospitality is just one example of the special customer service the Bake Shoppe provides. John is something of a hero to school children lucky enough to have a bus stop close by; after school they rush in to receive a special, free, treat of cookies. A tribute to business owners of old, he is the sort of man more likely to accept an I.O.U. than a credit card.
Spend five minutes talking with him and you will be hard pressed not to want to personally help keep his business afloat. Despite hard times John has nothing but praise for the Torrington community and all of its support. “You would think I would be sadder about possibly closing, but with all the people that have called to let me know that we are in their thoughts and prayers I just can’t be.” One of the callers was Angela Americone, whose husband Frank built the shops at 280 East Main Street and who first ran the bakery. They lived in the very apartment behind the Bake Shoppe that John now occupies. “When I get up at 1:00 AM to walk to the bakery,” reflects John, “I feel like I have company as I am tracing the steps that Frank did all those years ago.”
John mentioned that Mayor Bingham has called and offered his support. Mike Williams, who is running for Congress, is holding a coffee klatch at the Bake Shoppe on Friday, June 17th at 8:00 am and has invited local residents to meet with him and to support the store. It would be a great time for the Torrington community to send a message that we care about our local businesses and want to help them thrive.
As important as the encouragement and well-wishes are, it is much more important that we as a community show our commitment with our wallets. Swing by the Bake Shoppe and buy some of their delicious cookies, pastries, and breads. Order one of their cakes, each one baked fresh especially for the purchaser. Take the time to show your children what customer service and pride in product once meant and still means thanks to shop owners like John. Torrington’s unique, locally owned businesses are sadly becoming a thing of the past. The Torrington Connecticut Facebook group is full of messages reminiscing about the community’s favorite shops and hot spots of yesteryear and lamenting their passing. if we don’t act now and support troubled gems like the Bake Shoppe we will soon find ourselves looking back on more local businesses that are naught but distant memories and bemoaning the loss of all that makes Torrington unique.
The Bake Shoppe is located on 280 East Main Street Torrington and is open Friday, Saturday and Monday from 7am to 6 pm and on Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. You can purchase items Tuesday through Thursday by appointment. Their phone number is 860-482-4852.