If there is one thing to say about St Laurent de Cerdans it’s that it’s very calm. In French they say, “Il n’y a pas un chat” and that’s how it can feel driving down the main road.
But one thing’s for sure, you can count on the sweet shop. Open Monday to Sunday, full of treasures, sweets, books and of course, The Lotto. It’s a centre of town news and local gossip too. Solange, the friendly owner, knows everything about everyone, and hot off the press.
She was born Solange Saba and set up her shop at the age of 18. She married Alain Roque and has now been running the business for 47 years, very successfully.
When someone enters, a ladybird whistles to call Solange into the shop. She converted her parent’s downstairs room into the flourishing establishment and has a comfy kitchen behind.
She is loved by the whole village and especially the young. There are two rows of sweets in boxes at easy–to-choose eye level and woven baskets to collect the goods. I’m sure you can remember the corner sweet shop where, for a few pennies, you could feast on coloured delights. Well, Solange has kept that childhood joy going strong with two cents sweets and a huge range of more.
Of course it’s not just the young who frequent the sweet shop, but many an elderly lady or gent who wishes to try their luck at the Lotto or scratch-and-win cards. It’s nearly a daily ritual. Solange makes sure that stocks last.
She is also a great collector of local literature with books by St Laurent authors, local walks, history and culture. Her souvenirs are fun and colourful and are backed up by children’s games, last minute present ideas and seasonal dress up and carnival gear. When her second husband, Jean Corrominas, was alive, she did the early morning paper run, delivering daily newspapers to her happy clients. Now, nearing retirement age, she has passed on the job to others.
There was a time, just after a small stroke, when Solange was considering retirement and I was interested in taking over the business. She told me it was a wonderful job, if you enjoyed commerce…the art of rightful trade, of knowing people’s favourites and stocking the small gems tourists and locals alike will savour. She has the experience and the knack, and the gift of the gab.
Her granddaughter, Malory, aged five , often helps her in the shop – learning to count money and sweets at the same time, something most children pride themselves on when they want their centimes’ worth.
She has many friends and fond memories having known the families and grandparents of most of her present clients. She explains how she knew the “rich epoch” of St Laurent when all the factories were open and village life was buzzing.
At the time there were over 3 000 inhabitants and now not even a 1 000. She explained how contact was the basis of her work, along with trust and being interested in people. She sees herself as a “confidant” as most people just need someone to talk to. And of course there is the “little clientele”, the children.
One young girl who visits St Laurent wrote her a letter:
I hope that your shop never closes. Every time I come to St Laurent I ask the person I am with to accompany me to buy sweets in your shop. And even more, your sweets are the best in the world. If ever you close, there won’t be a sweet shop in the village and that would be the worst thing in the world. I have no words to describe how much I love the sweets in your shop.
I would take over your shop. I would never let it close, I promise.
So I am not the only one who feels passionate about the lollipop shop and Solange. She even gets fan mail.
There is something very comforting in living in a village where people greet you from passing cars or stop you in the street to ask your news. In the midst of that I can well imagine the joy Solange finds in being in the centre of it all. It may be calm in St Laurent but there is Life, love and friendship. So, if you are in the neighbourhood, pop in…live a little sweeter.