How Bretoncelles fights commercial desertification

Amidst the undergoing commercial desertification in the downtowns of villages in the French countryside, one mayor, David Lambert, decided to take the problem in an other way at Bretoncelles in Eure et Loire (Normandy). His goal: “long term”. His solution: buying old standards failing shops and helping new and young entrepreneurs to make the downtown of Bretoncelles reviving. This “pro-active” policy took place on many projects like a grocery store, an organic local grocery store or even a municipal gas station. 


     It begun at the time where David Lambert, former baker based in Bretoncelles is a city councillor between 2008 and 2014. Against the lack of grocery store inside Bretoncelles’ downtown, Patrick Pinloche, mayor at the time engaged himself to find a buyer. He is joined by Ahmed Oussibla who offers to take over the grocery store. However, Mr. Oussibla had sets his conditions: the city council must help him to enlarge the shop. After more than 12 years of existence in Bretoncelles, the small grocery store became a “very good business” helping Bretoncelles’ inhabitants. This project has also attracted other mayors to see how it was carried out by the City Council in order the reproduce it in their own villages. The town hall made a “draw”(a neutral operation) to get the grocery store back on tracks. This operation is a real success from which the current mayor David Lambert will draw inspiration for his actions during his madame between 2014 and 2020.

Ahmed Oussibla, conseiller municipal et commerçantAhmed Oussibla, city councillor and shop owner

     After this success for Ahmed Oussibla, he decided to work as a city councillor for David Lambert. He is the president of the economic and commercial commission of the town hall of Bretoncelles. Ahmed Oussibla and David Lambert replicated what they have already done with the grocery store on other local shops such as the butcher’s shop but also the organic grocery store “Aux Petits Fours”. The Mayor of Bretoncelles wishing to make up for the lack of local organic grocery store, while taking advantage of the new “movement” of today’s era of consumption, set up the project. To achieve this, the mayor relies on “solid people” above all, but also qualified and motivated. He takes care of funding and premises. As mayor, he is able to requests grants but also loans at much more attractive rates than for a simple business. The idea behind such a commitment from the town hall is not to make a simple profit but to think for the “long term”. The aim was also to develop an attractive business for people who were not used to go into Bretoncelles’ downtown, which is unusual in other towns in the region.

David Lambert, maire de Bretoncelles, 2014-2020David Lambert, Bretoncelles' mayor from 2014 to 2020
"Aux Petits Fours", l'épicerie bio locale"Aux Petits Fours", the local organic shop

The strategy of the "long-term"

The “long term” strategy is what David Lambert mainly criticizes his predecessor as mayor but also the former managers of shops. For exemple, for “Aux Petits Fours”, the local organic grocery store, the City Council has put more than 200.000 € on the table, the mayor wants to cover it over more than 15 years with rents. Always wanting to avoid the “immediate need” for new services, David Lambert, always with his city councillor and shopkeeper Ahmed Oussibla applied his strategy when creating the municipal gas station. When the two gas stations of the two garages closed due to their non-compliance with standards in early 2014, the mayor refused to help the garage owners, saying that they were thinking too much about the "short term". The mayor, always in the spirit of “seeing further”, facing this lack which causes a “great stir” among the inhabitants (without a service station in the town, the inhabitants of Bretoncelles are forced to travel more than 15km to the nearest town) decides to create its own municipal gas station. The objective of such an investment was above all to "bring back activity" in the commune, in particular with discount operations, once a month. Unlike the municipality's other draw operations to help entrepreneurs, the service station reports between € 12,000 and € 15,000 a year to the town hall, a considerable sum which is partly returned to the municipality's budget which will be used to other projects. Much more than a simple gas station, the mayor considers it as a real “consumer appeal” to attract residents of other towns to Bretoncelles’ downtown, the municipal has station became a very concrete “business tool”. 

La station communale de BretoncellesThe city owned gas station

 Fighting the reduction of public services

     Another area of ​​conquest for David Lambert and his team: public services. While facing the problems of commercial desertification in the downtown of Bretoncelles, David Lambert was contacted by the Prime Minister's services via the prefecture to become a “territory of experimentation” for “Public Service +”, now named “Maison France Services” to make up for the lack of public services in rural towns and villages. The principle is to train municipal employees in administrative services such as those of the Interior Minister for example, the typical example of the mayor is the position provided by the Town Hall to a job seeker. The services of the post office are maintained in the town hall, the local office closed its doors at the end of February 2019 after a drop in attendance of more than 11% in 2018. Thus, ‘La Poste’ (the national post office company) and the municipality joined forces to open a municipal postal agency within the town hall where 90% of La Poste's services are taken up by municipal employees. The building of the former postal agency on the D918 will be taken over to become a nursery school whose building work is imminent. 

L'ancienne agence postaleThe old post office
L'accueil de la "Maison France Services +" au sein de la mairieThe reception of the "Maison France Services +" inside the town hall

     Cherry on the cake, mayor David Lambert lowered property taxes after engaging himself in 2014 to stop them. Historically high in Bretoncelles, these drops represent a little more than € 20,000 in savings for owners in the town. The number of residents increased by 250, representing an increase of 15% throughout his tenure.

"You have to give yourself the means"

      The “pro-active” mayor does not however agree with analyses of mayors claiming to be “neglected”, the latter accuse the top of the state of not helping them. David Lambert takes his distances with this state of mind, we must not only “suffer”, according to the mayor, mayor must takes their commitment in hand and despite public services “in reduction” or the daily difficulties of the daily mayor life, they need to give themselves the means to succeed. This analysis is shared by his city councilor Ahmed Oussibla, “mayor must knock the door of the state, grants exists”, “they need to give themselves the means to succeed" said the city councilor. Faced with the expression "mayor pioneer", David Lambert refutes this term, "it's a big word" he admits however, to have a "different state of mind". In ten years, David Lambert, successively city councillor to the economic and commercial life of Bretoncelles and Mayor of the town has achieved a gain of more than 250 inhabitants in the city. A new class has been opened, the municipality now welcomes more than 180 students against 140 in 2014. Real hope of attractiveness for the small town of Bretoncelles which manages to stand out from the neighboring municipalities of the Perche, Orne National Park. Despite 6 years of unremitting efforts to develop the economic and commercial life of Bretoncelles, David Lambert will not be seeking another term, not being sure he will be able to issue a "total commitment" for another 6 years. His successor, promises to make Bretoncelles a center of inter-municipality, like a second act in the renaissance of Bretoncelles.

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Comment Bretoncelles se bat contre la désertification

This report is available in English      Sur fond de désertifications des centres-villes des petites communes rurales dénonçant le manque de moyens pour (re)faire surface, un maire, David Lambert, a décidé de prendre le problème autrement à… Read more