Where Have All the Retail Bakeries Gone?
Think back 5, 10, 15 years, and try to remember all of the mom and pop retail bakeries that existed. In every ethnic neighborhood, you had the Jewish Bakery, the German Bakery, the Italian Bakery and so on. My dad once owned eight bakeries in various neighborhoods throughout the Philadelphia area. Remember the signs in the store windows: “Fresh bread”, “Fresh cakes”, “Butter cookies”, “All Baking Done on Premises.” Those were the days. Bakery owners did the actual baking; they woke early and started baking way before the sun came up. Freezers were small, as there was no need to freeze racks of cake, cookies, and pies. Who ever heard of using a premade mix? Ha, Ha, just add water and mix. Even funnier, today the joke is who ever heard of scratch baking! Remember the names of the bakeries? My dad’s name is Arthur. His bakeries were called, (guess), Arthur’s Bakery. The names reflected who owned the store, not what large corporation owned the store.
So, where did all the bakeries go? In no particular order, here are my answers.
1. The Big Box Store Effect: 15 years ago the products that the Supermarkets and Wholesale Clubs put out were lousy. Through the years their product has gotten much better, still nowhere near as good as a retail bakery can put out, but good enough. I am in the bakery supply business, so I really try to support the “mom & pops” but here’s the thing… Junior is turning 3 and I need a cake. We’ve invited 25 of Junior’s best and closest preschool buddies. My wife calls the local bakery and orders a ½ sheet cake, the price is $35.00, and she then calls a warehouse club and finds out that their price is $19.87. Will the preschoolers really care what their piece of cake tastes like? Should I save $15.00 or spend an extra $15.00 in order to support the local retailer?
2. Who Wants to Work so Hard? Growing up, my father worked so many hours. I rarely saw him during a holiday season, up and gone by the time I woke up for school, and when I got home from school he was either still at work, or catching up on sleep. Phone calls in the middle of the night, the mixer broke, the driver didn’t have money to cross the bridge, the store was robbed, and then there was the fistfight in the parking lot. The police were called. Who needs that? Ok so we did all right, but the family was certainly not “rich” by any means. My dad made most of his money from the sale of the properties that the bakeries rested on.
3. College: So the bakery was doing ok, and papa baker wanted his offspring to have a better life, so he sends Junior off to college. Well, when Junior graduates college, he doesn’t want to go back in the family business and split the profits with his dad. Junior is better off working in industry or buying a Dunkin Donuts, which brings me to point #4.
4. They Never Really Left, Just Changed to Specialty Shops: Well we have, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Cupcake Only Shops, etc. The combined bakery goods selling now is much higher than it was, and this is not only due to population growth, it’s due to sexy marketing by the fast food chain stores. Hey, I can stop at the mom and pop bakery and get a muffin for breakfast, or I can stop at Starbucks and overpay for the muffin and coffee. I’ll choose Starbucks, because I love to be hip. gluten free bakery in Seattle, WA
5. Convenience Stores, Especially Those with Drive-Through-Windows: Pick up smokes and a bagel, in and out in a minute or two. I remember my dad’s shops had the cigarette machines and the patrons had to put quarters in it. If you didn’t have the change, then you had to go to the counter and wait for the cashier to break a dollar or two for you. Now, they swipe their debit cards for a $1.98 sale. Who carries cash anymore? So now, Mr. Retail baker can’t hide his cash as easily anymore. The “cash” was a perk which was unspoken about.
6. Changing Nutritional Habits: Peanut Free, Gluten Free, Sugar Free, Blah, Blah. The Supermarkets are able to change faster and advertise that they “have it”. Whatever “it” is that month. By the way, I never heard of peanut allergies when I was a kid.
7. The Unlicensed Home Cake Decorator: No doubt about it, the bakery industry is getting sexier, and sexier. Just watch the T.V. shows, “Cake Boss”, “Ace of Cakes”, “Extreme Cake Challenge” or read the latest Martha Stewart Magazine. The problem is that the mom and pops were never geared to make such ornate cakes, spending ½ a day on one specialty wedding cake. The bakeries that I grew up in are set up to churn out multiple cakes. On a good weekend during the wedding season they’d bake, ice, and decorate 30 to 40 wedding cakes! Anyway the retailers didn’t keep up with the times so the void was filled by the at home baker, who can afford to work on just one or two cakes a week. The buyers of such cakes should do their due dilligence and make sure that the “creation” is made by an individual who has the proper licensees and insurance.
8. Only the Strong Survive: No matter what, running any small business is tough. The bakeries that were operating on a slim to none, profit margin, closed up shop during our latest recession. The younger bakers got jobs in the Supermarket Bakery, where they were offered a steady paycheck and benefits.
Paradise for them! An air-conditioned environment, set working hours, getting off on Holidays, and best yet, they don’t work nearly as hard. Instead of “scratch baking” or adding water to a mix, they pull from the freezer and thaw out the premade cakes that were made 3 weeks ago in a large factory. The really “experienced” baker will do what’s called a “bake off.” In this instance, the item is made and pre-baked ½ the way. The “baker” pulls this product from the freezer, thaws it, and then “bakes it off”. Ahh, the aroma of fresh baked bread.