Brioche and books: How Omemee keeps getting cooler

By Geoff Coleman

Mickaël Durand. Photo: Geoff Coleman.

For many people, Omemee will always be the coolest place in the Kawarthas simply on the alone of Neil Young having lived there at one time. But today, there are new reasons to like the little village that too many of us just breeze through on the way to Peterborough. One of the best is a unique union of books and brioche on the main street.

The building that was once the Ace Hardware store now houses the Omemee Public Library and a new incarnation of Mickaël’s Cafe Librairie — the ever-evolving vision of Parisian-trained baker Mickaël Durand. Similar to his successful Lindsay bakery, the Omemee location also boasts seating for 20 while offering the same fresh, delicious baked goods.

The cool thing here is that although the library and the cafe have separate entrances, they share an interior door which is left open when both tenants are operating. So, patrons of the library can drift over and pick up a fresh cheese pretzel or cookie. And with a few steps, eaters can become readers on the book side.

A comparison between the Chapters and Starbucks marriage in Peterborough is inevitable, but it would be more accurate if the baked goods were prepared fresh every morning by a guy who had a hand in three authentic French bakeries, and if the books were free, along with computer terminals and workshops and programs offered in a beautifully restored historic building. Not to mention it’s so much more meaningful because it’s local, not a corporate behemoth.

Both tenants are new to the location. Until the 2017 move, the public library was part of Coronation Hall — where Neil Young recently performed — and got by in a cramped 400-square-foot allotment of space. During the last month of operation there, 364 items were circulated, matching the historical monthly average. After the branch moved, the number of circulations doubled within a few months, and they finished October 2019 with more than 1,600 circulations. In July and August they hovered around 1,900 items. Library staffer Bill Scholey aims to keep close to 1,500 items in circulation during the winter months. It’s easy to see that a more inviting library space has paid major dividends.

Just as the cafe represents a departure from the typical cafe one would have found in the Kawarthas 20 years ago, libraries are evolving too. No longer a place to be silent and solitary, public libraries still offer loans of books, but also has CDs, DVDs, and audio books, and even movies to stream. But the bigger change has been in how the spaces are used. Scholey credits programming that includes emerging technology workshops, book clubs, genealogy groups, and a moms and tots morning for bringing new people in. These have become much easier to offer with the new location’s larger space, ample parking and inviting layout.

He also doesn’t discount the value of a top-shelf tenant next door that generates its own foot traffic at a highly visible location. Based on 2003 numbers, an average of 10,000 cars pass by the building daily. Regular customers move freely between the two sides, and newcomers on both sides of the wall are naturally drawn to the open door and look to see what’s happening in the adjacent space. Together, the two make a destination that’s appealing to locals and passers-through alike.

In addition to physically sharing space, they also have a common goal in becoming a community hub.

“I would like to establish a daily, walk-in clientele,” says Durand, and the public library is well on its way to the same thing. With a bakery-and-books symbiosis, both sides are confident their hopes will become reality.

The building was transformed from nuts and bolts to pecans and books with the assistance of Kawartha Lakes’ Million Dollar Makeover funding program, and Durand sees this kind of investment as key to further rejuvenation of the village.

In the meantime, patrons of both places in Omemee are grateful for the opportunity to enjoy a good book and a croissant, with a local vibe that Chapters-Starbucks only wishes it could capture.

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