When we owned our bread bakery on the South side it wasn’t at all easy, right from the beginning. We grand opened in late October and then by February we were in the middle of Atkins’ Diet most marketed month. We had our “not even established” customers coming in daily looking for no-carb bread, and scoffing at our 100% whole wheat offerings. Our sales that were just kicking off, plummeted. Our friends who opened a bakery on the North shore at the same time, closed before Valentine’s Day.

Other bakeries across the country warned us that Lent was difficult as well. People who would stop in for a daily scone and coffee would give it up for the duration. Our headquarters in Montana was warning that we had an additional 6 weeks to shore up our sails and wait for the storm to pass. We were pretty scared. Maybe even slightly depressed.

But we had a loyal few that kept us afloat. A past bakery owner who lived far from us, waited until three days after Valentine’s Day and called to order 20 loaves for friends of hers and to stock her own deep freeze. And we had customers that stopped in every week like clockwork for their extra seedy Dakota bread or Honey Whole Wheat.

And then of course there was Millie. Starting with Ash Wednesday Millie started coming in about every other day and buying us out of sweets or bread.

“Millie, who are you feeding with all of this?” “Oh I just am visiting a lot of people over the next month or so and I wanted to bring them something homemade.”

I think Millie kept us open that month. Some weeks she, herself, may have spent $100 on our product. I gave her some coupons to hand out to friends and they started visiting us regularly. We didn’t have any extra to advertise. Millie took us on as her project.

At the end of Lent, and after a fantastically successful Easter sales day (made the same amount in one day that we had made in all of February), Millie stopped in and asked how we were doing.

I didn’t cry on her shoulder. I said, “Honestly, Millie we are doing great and I think that’s in large part to your support these past few weeks.”

“Good, I have to tell you, YOU were my Lenten resolution. I decided I was going to visit one person who needed a friend every day and that I would support you by bringing your product and telling people how much I love your bakery.”

We were in business for four more full wonderful years (with some other rough points) until we sold our bakery to an employee’s family. And we owe a lot of that success to loving local loyal customers like Millie.

I don’t encourage our kids to give up chocolate or bread or soda for Lent. We work hard as a family to be sure that we are doing “good works” for others. This year we are going to try to be sure we do something good every day: a kind smile for someone who is anxious, sticking up for a kid at school, bringing a loaf of bread to someone who is shut in, donating clothes, shopping local.

For me, every year in Millies honor, I make sure that I am shopping local. I think of someone who might be having a tough time, and I buy them something to cheer them up from a local shop.

It may seem like a simple thing, but it’s what I can do to support business owners who might be walking the same path my family did when we struggled. When I make a purchase I don’t try and guess who might be struggling, but I pick the businesses who have an owner smiling back at me. In truth, no business has a great January, so making a purchase in February helps to pay a bill for any of them, even if we think they are swimming in customer support.

This Lent, whatever your resolution might be if you do that, make sure that you include your local businesses, bakeries and charities. When we take the time to slow our own personal crazy lives down, we should make time for our local community.

It’s how we spread the Love. Happy Valentine’s Day. Happy Lent. Happy Easter. And thanks Millie. 

Sarah, a life long Oak Parker, enjoys supporting local small business as much as possible.  With over 20 years in big box and little box retail, she brings a unique perspective to our local business community. ...