Monday, April 17, 2017


I have never had a desire to operate a retail business. The type of enterprise in which you spend money upfront for merchandise at wholesale and then hope people wander by your store and decide to purchase an item or two.

However, I have great admiration for those who choose to do so. Maybe it's a family business they fell into. Maybe they had an idea at one time that they could offer something lots of people would want. Maybe they were just looking for a way to scratch out a living.

The merchants in Argèles sur Mer, at least many of them, work quite hard. They are up early getting ready, especially the boulangeries, charcuteries and fruitiers. The green grocer, for example, has to pull long tables to the sidewalk area, a row for veggies and another for fruits ... then pull them all inside around noon when the village basically shuts down for about three hours ... then go through the whole process again in the late afternoon or evening. In between, they're probably taking inventory, managing the financials, and squeezing in lunch. The woman selling clothes and accessories hangs headless and legless mannequins from hooks on the storefront, rolls out racks of blouses and slacks and skirts and inexpensive jewelry ... repeat, repeat, repeat. The temporary vendors who come in twice a week for the marchés unpack and pack everything into carefully planned vans and towed trailers.

I don't suppose any of these folks makes a great deal of money. If that was their goal, they probably would have left the village for larger, more lucrative environs long ago. The aerospace community around Toulouse. The sparkle of Paris.

Most, not all, are quite friendly. A genuine friendly, not the faux marketing friendly you often find in malls and "high street" shoppes. They learn your name ... and pronounce it in ways you never imagined possible. They remember you like honey with your tea. If you happen to select a bad apple or avocado, they refuse to sell it to you. If the total of your bill is a few pennies over a euro, they'll ignore the centimes. (We often do the same in the other direction, ie keep the change.)

My grandfather operated a small neighborhood grocery store and meat market, about the size of a two-care garage, a block from the house where I grew up. He had one of those wood-carving plaques you get in a tourist trap, probably from a trip to the Adirondack Mountains -- the plaque had a naked fellow wearing a barrel, and read, "The world owes you a living ... but you have to work hard to collect it."

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