It is obvious that you will never have the same experience in the DIY stores for week-end handymen that adorn the entrances to our towns and cities. There you will find the latest novelty, definitely revolutionary since made in China – and expensive - as the huge billboard and the manager’s hatchback need to be paid for; the hatchback is not necessarily best adapted since it was bought for its own sake not because it was useful. You can always come back on the following week-end, the “sales adviser” – if it’s still the same guy – will not give a damn: last week he was working in the “fresh produce aisle” and his ambition is to climb the greasy pole and sell cars anyway…
Thankfully, contrary to what most people think, true hardware stores have not disappeared. When I wrote about the lovely market in Réalmont last week I promised to tell you about one of one them, one of the landmarks of this rural event held every Wednesday. Bruniquel have been suppliers of tools and consumables to the surrounding countryside for ages; entering the store you hesitate: does it look like a toy store or a museum? Shelves are covered with utensils that are indispensable to hunting, carving, cooking, making preserves, bottling wine, and more. The impression is that from storage cupboards to milk cans, from corks to all sorts of choppers and slicers, the shelves have an answer to everything.
You will find anything at Bruniquel’s: cartridges, screws, drills, knives, everything except items sold by other specialized shops in Réalmont, like the store dedicated to farming supplies, the one that sells mainly cleaning materials and the other hardware store, that deals more specifically in tableware; this without counting the sellers of pickaxes and kitchen knives who set up stall in the neighboring streets on market days. These stores still exists because people like you and me choose to purchase from them rather than waste gas to go and get lost in the de-humanized business parks on Castres or Albi.
This hardware store and its incredibly affordable prices remind me of a sentence I read in a useful study published a few years ago in the Telerama magazine called: “How France became ugly”. “By cutting prices on a few but symbolic items, the major supermarkets became rich by ruining the local gas stations, grocery stores, hardware stores, thousands of specialized, local small businesses, thousands of craftspeople and even thousands of producers and suppliers. The results are objectively unacceptable. With, to boot, prices that are higher than those of our European neighbors.” A sentence uttered, as reminded by Telerama, not by a dangerous subversive but by the late Jean-Paul Charié, conservative congressman for the Loiret, in a report on commercial urbanism written in March 2009.
The same study in Telerama (which was sent to me by Fançois Desperriers of “Bourgogne Live”) also quoted the following shocking figures: in France, 70% of the business income is produced in the suburbs, whereas it is only 30% in Germany. It shows that there are other ways to be “modern” than by pushing carts as urban architect David Mangin states in his book “La Ville Franchisée” (The Franchised Town), a work that analyzes “hinterland metastases” we must stop thinking that “this chaos came from nowhere”. On the contrary, it is the result of “political forces, ideologies and technical cultures” - i.e. all these polymorphous horrors are not there by chance; they are the consequences of choices, our own choices. Think of the hardware store of Réalmont (and a few others who managed to escape Progress) next time you want to do a spot of DIY. And ask yourself the question: sustainable development or disposable development?
*Last time I bought a good quality frying pan (they even sell cast iron pans, ideal for cooking porcinis) that cost half the price of the one I ordered and never received in Barcelona! You need to understand that, anyway, Bruniquel hardware store is not patronized only by the millionaires of the Réalmont canton; therefore items are sold at their “correct price”, they are made to last, not to be thrown away.