Today is a sad day for the Flying Pig family. Michel Mahe, chef/owner of the Bearded Frog restaurant next door to the bookstore, passed away quite suddenly last week. His memorial is today. Michel was only 51 and it seems he died in his sleep after a night of working at one of his five restaurants. Working in a small town provides ample opportunities to get to know people and with this comes the risk of loss. We lose people and it hurts. This is the first time we’ve lost another business owner who we counted as a friend.
Before we moved the store in 2006, Michel was a regular customer of the bookstore. He was a larger than life man: loud, deep-voiced, and quick to laugh. I would always have to remind him not to swear when he came to the store because little kids could hear him. He’d quiet down for a second, then say under his breath to me kiddingly, “Bleep ’em,” and then he’d put a dollar in the swear jar.
When we started looking at moving the bookstore, we considered lots of different places. Some were too far away, some were too expensive and finally the space we’re in now felt just right. Part of what made that space feel right was Michel. He was a hot chef who was opening his second restaurant in our building. We talked with him about what he wanted and how we could work together. Before we even moved in, we felt welcomed by him and that made a huge difference. We had a parking space issue that could have been contentious with someone else. Instead, we worked together to eke out as many spaces for both businesses as possible.
Every March, Michel and I would sit and go over the common area maintenance charges from the landlord. (The CAM, as it’s known, covers things like snow plowing, taxes, trash removal, etc.) The first three years these charges were huge and neither one of us quite understood why these fees kept going up and up. We sat down and hashed everything out, even sharing our leases to look for loopholes. By working together and presenting an allied front, we managed to save thousands of dollars. During the holidays when we worked late, Michel and his staff would let us order take out and then they’d bring it over to the bookstore on china plates. Often, Michel and I would run into each other in the parking lot and talk for half an hour about business, life, and everything in between. I saw him the week before he died and commented on how good looked. He was vibrant, joyful, and seemed to be the picture of good health.
When I got a text late the night that he died I was stunned and saddened. The Bearded Frog will continue without Michel, but it won’t be the same. And come this March, I’ll have to fight the CAM charges without my friend helping me.