Community Capital

It Takes a Village, or a Police Force, or Perhaps Some Farmers

On a warm spring morning in early May 2009, Greg Rynearson, a police officer in Clare, Michigan, was on a coffee run when he received some disturbing news. It wasn’t a robbery or a homicide—this sleepy, Midwestern town of 3,300 hasn’t seen either in years. Rather, the alarm bells were set off by a rumor that the 111-year-old Clare City Bakery was planning to call it quits in July. Back at the department, in a stark interrogation room that doubles as a lunchroom, Rynearson shared the news with fellow officer Al White. For the two cops—burly men with matching bushy mustaches who were born and raised in Clare—it was more than the loss of a nostalgic fixture of their youth. If the bakery closed, it would be yet another shuttered storefront on North McEwan, a three-block stretch that makes up the main drag of downtown Clare. Like many Michigan towns, Clare was feeling the impact of a foundering auto industry and severe recession. There were already five vacancies on McEwan, including the former site of Mills End, a Western-wear shop that, like the bakery, had served residents for generations. “We said, boy, if we could get all of the boys in the department to pitch in, we could probably save the bakery,” recalls Rynearson.

The officers called the owner of the bakery and asked for a price. She thought they were crazy—it wasn’t the kind of business that’s going to make anyone rich, but gave them ...

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