top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
Explore
arrow down

Entrepreneur steps up to save his village’s shops in France

Claude Bellessort is being hailed as a Father Christmas figure after saving his village cafe, boulangerie and hairdressing salon from closure in Centre-Val de Loire

'I’m now working on a new project to re-dynamise the village' says Father Christmas figure Claude Bellessort Pic: Courtesy of Claude Bellessort

Claude Bellessort, 66, insists his efforts for Arrou (Eure-et-Loir, Centre-Val de Loire), where he has lived all his life as did several generations of his family, are “normal”.

To prevent the shops closing, he invested €500,000 with the aim of encouraging people to master running their own businesses.

He said: “I’ve been retired for five years. I spent the last 20 years of my career as an entrepreneur with 35 employees and I loved it.

“I liked creating businesses and found that when I trusted people and gave them good working conditions and equipment, they always did a good job.”

Mr Bellessort said he could not stand by and watch businesses close in the 1,600-resident village.

“When I saw the cafe was about to close down, I found someone to run it, then I bought it and financed refurbishment, and less than a year later, it was open again.

“When I retired, I sold my business, so I had a little money to invest and this seemed like the perfect project.” Two years later, he did the same when the boulangerie was about to close.

A baker who lived in the village but worked in another commune was interested in taking it over but had no means to buy it.

So ‘Father Christmas’ stepped in, bought it, refurbished it and installed the new manager.

'I enjoy passing on my knowledge. I love encouraging people to be entrepreneurs'

It was no surprise, then, when he stepped up to save the hairdressing salon.

“I’ve stopped now,” he said. “I’m working on a new project to re-dynamise the village.

“We have established a small business park on the edge of Arrou. Each plot has drainage and electricity, all ready for people to come and set up businesses, but no one is interested. I want to attract plumbers, mechanics, shops... so I’m setting up a working party of accountants, business people, lawyers, bankers, investors, entrepreneurs and others to identify the barriers.

“What’s stopping people from setting up here? Once we find out, we can remove the barriers and hopefully the park will thrive.”

He says he is not Father Christmas, however. “When you have confidence in people, you create teams. I give out what I have received. Money isn’t the priority; creating fulfilling lives is the aim. It makes others happy and makes me happy – that’s what life’s about.”

1980s and 1990s saw 25-30% of France’s small rural food shops disappear

A 1996 study by University of Angers professor Jean Soumagne showed that 25-30% of France’s small rural food shops disappeared in the 1980s and 1990s as they struggled to compete with out-of-town supermarkets.

This had an isolating effect on those with reduced mobility or who did not have access to a car.

It also left many rural high streets lined with permanently empty shopfronts, creating a sense of a place frozen in time and deterring new businesses.

Related stories

Donkeys collect the bins to help keep French village clean

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Healthcare in France*
Featured Help Guide
- Understand the French healthcare system, how you access it and how you are reimbursed - Useful if you are new to the French healthcare system or want a more in-depth understanding - Reader question and answer section Aimed at non-French nationals living here, the guide gives an overview of what you are (and are not) covered for. There is also information for second-home owners and regular visitors.
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now