In a country where it is said: "Without bread, there is no more life," local bakeries are disappearing quickly.
The lights inside the village bakery used to come on before dawn, an hour or so before the smell of baking bread would waft into neighbors' homes.
The storefront door would soon be heard, opening and closing, the rhythm as predictable as the life stirring awake across the French countryside. But everything changes.
"Without bread, there is no more life. This is a dead village," said Gérard Vigot standing in his driveway across the street from the now shuttered bakery.
According to The New York Times, two years ago, the 650 residents of La Chapelle-en-Juger lost their bakery, the last local business where they could meet one another, chitchat and gossip while waiting in line for their daily baguette or their weekend éclairs.
For the community, the closing of the bakery was "un drame," as one newspaper put it, or a tragedy, one that is being repeated in countless French villages.
Since the start of the decade, about 50 traditional bakeries have closed, leaving about 370, and 20 more are expected to disappear in the next year, according to the Chamber of Trades and Crafts in the department.
Young people are no longer drawn to the long hours of the traditional bakers who live above their store. Shopping malls have taken root on the periphery of rural areas, drawing in people who are content to buy at supermarkets or chains. Customers, especially the young, are not eating as much bread.
Traveling in rural France these days means spotting closed bakeries, the faded paint on old windows and doors giving an indication of when the lights went out. It means encountering people mentioning with visible relief that their village still has one.