Holes in the wall
A neighborhood bakery faces harassment, lonely days and gunfire
Published: December 28, 2011
Multiply his story by a few thousand times to understand why there are so many empty old stores on so many main roads in Detroit. It's hard to stay in business when you're under siege from a neighborhood that's collapsed around you. And Nortown Bakery is just another of those old-time stores that will be gone when its owner finally gets fed up or just too old to bother keeping it going anymore under these conditions.
"All the bakeries, the small bakeries, they go out of business," he says. "They moved out. In this area, I'm the only one left."
His bakery is a curious place. It's cold and dimly lit. The counter to the right features cured meats, the one at the back features bread and cookies, and the remainder of the room is devoted to a crowded collection of the most unrelated knickknacks anyone could assemble.
Here you can buy figurines of dogs and old people, princesses and cherubs. A glass cabinet houses hundreds of them. You can get little vases or big electric fans, calculators and combination locks and watches and batteries.
But the core of his business is still his food. The bread is only $1.50 a loaf. A Romanian pastrami sandwich is $5, with a free pop. The imported jars of preserves and delicacies like yellow peppers stuffed with cheese are five for $10. Homemade sausage links hang from a rope strung behind the counter, aged and dark and dry like jerky.
Binoculars sit on a shelf among the trinkets. He grabs them sometimes so he can watch what's going on outside without going up to the window and being seen. Cameras look down from several corners of the ceiling. And on most days, Sirca just watches and waits — for another stray gunshot, another thief, or if he's lucky, maybe even a suburban customer who drives in for something they can't find anywhere else in town. Not likely, though.
"They're afraid to come. They call me — 'Where are you located?' I say, 'Detroit.' They say, 'Oh.'"
Those callers usually don't come by.
Sirca has thought about moving north like everyone else did, someplace where gunshots don't echo every night, where your cars don't vanish, where people don't walk in and angrily demand free things or threaten you for no reason.
But he's broke. And moving to the suburbs would bring stiffer codes, tougher inspections, demands that he replace his ancient equipment, and a search for a new building he can't sell the old one to pay for. It's just easier to stay. Besides, he lives here too, upstairs. So he keeps working hard, baking fresh bread every day, making sausage by hand, despite the harassment, the gunfire, the lonely days.
"That's life," he says. "That's the way it is. I take it like it's something normal. I already get used to it. What are you gonna do?"
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