As someone who is married to a baker, works next door to a bakery and has lived the past three years two doors from a bread factory, I quickly admit my bias for those who rise early, knead dough and creatively tempt their customers.
Nonetheless, two feel-good stories need to be told amid a year weighed down by stagnant wages, slashed budgets and a surly electorate.
Barb Baker has been a pioneer and fixture downtown for 13 years. She built a loyal customer base by delivering quality goods - including her signature cinnamon rolls that commonly arrived at UDA's 7:30 a.m. board meetings, delivered, ironically, by our own staff's Barb Baker - at a fair price. Every week, Springfield's civic and private leaders, such as Police Chief Lynn Rowe, Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co. Vice President Sally Hargis and former city manager Tom Finnie, could be seen racing in to pick up specialty breads and rolls.
From her 308 W. McDaniel St. bakery, Baker gathered her goodies and ventured out to the Springfield Regional Farmers Market, Artsfest and Cider Days. She and her husband, George, (whose artwork was featured prominently in the store) established long-lasting friendships with customers and fellow vendors.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that only 50 percent of businesses are still operating five years after they open. The Bakehouse beat those odds the old-fashioned way, and Baker's retirement is well deserved.
August ushered in a new owner, a new name and a new energy.
The bakery walls were painted a chocolate brown. Artwork was hung on the wall for a bustling First Friday. A Web site,www.sweetsbyamycakes.com, beckoned customers to check out the expanded menu. The photo gallery displayed downtown's newest temptations, a blog shared the anticipation of her grand opening. There is no mistaking a new cook is in the kitchen.
Amy McGehee, a 2008 Drury University arts administration graduate, has dreamed of opening her own shop since she was young. She spent the past year baking at South Avenue Pizza, honing her craft and finding hungry friends to test the finished product.
"I've lived downtown for the past two years, and I love the energy of the area," McGehee said. "From art walks to shops to theaters to restaurants, something fun is always around the corner. Working with Barb was a huge help to me, and I feel fortunate to be a part of the downtown community."
The new venture is a family affair. At any given time, McGehee's mom can be seen working the counter and her dad washing pots and pans. The excitement in the air is palatable and contagious.
At a small downtown bakery, we are once again reminded that those who come before us establish strong foundations, and the right ingredients prepared by expert, caring hands will consistently yield products and services people will crave.