Flexibility from an immigration bureaucracy! Unbelievable. But only after immense pressure, of course

When the boulangerie opened eight years ago in this hardscrabble town near the Canadian border, there was no reason to think it would survive even a day. Baguettes were not in high demand. Indeed, residents who poked heads in the shop often eyed the skinny loaves suspiciously before screwing up the courage to ask what they were. Bets were placed that the Parisian owners would close up shop and move back to France.

But Le Rendez-Vous, a bit of the Left Bank in the North Country, with its gleaming exposed wood beams, tinkling strains of Vivaldi, stuffed sofas, and antique cuckoo clocks, soon was drawing locals and visitors alike for its almond croissants and apple tarts, which sold out every afternoon. The town helplessly watched as a worsening economy forced the closure of local paper mills, layoffs at the nearby Ethan Allen factory, and the shuttering of the Ford dealership. Through it all, Le Rendez-Vous, with its baskets of crusty loaves and paintings of Paris scenes, was a remarkable success.

So when word came in April that the bakery was shutting down – not because of the economy, but because the US Embassy in Paris refused to renew the visa of the owner – the townspeople were vexed. Federal bureaucrats, they were told, had decided that the bakery did not make enough of a profit to warrant a renewal. It was then that a community rose up in protest. “We’d lost enough,” said Steve Colby, 71, a retired machinist. “We didn’t need to lose anything more up here.”

They began sending letters to the US Embassy in Paris. They lobbied their congressmen to get behind their appeal. They signed a petition by the hundreds and sent it to American diplomats several thousand miles away. Their argument: The bakery might not earn huge sums of money, but it contributed plenty to the community, providing a place for residents to gather, while offering hope that a small business, even one as unlikely as the boulangerie, could thrive in their town.

“You cannot imagine what they did for me,” said Verlaine Daeron, a 51-year-old former nurse-turned-bakery owner. She said her visa application folder at the US Embassy in Paris contained two pounds of letters from Colebrook-area residents and added, “It’s a very, very nice town.”

This week, Colebrook residents got their wish. The US Embassy reversed its decision and granted Daeron her visa, according to Daeron and the New Hampshire state director for Senator Judd Gregg, who was briefed by State Department officials on the case. A State Department spokeswoman, Laura Tischler, said the department does not comment on individual visa cases.

Yesterday, as word of the reversal trickled out and anxious residents tucked into Le Rendez-Vous, Marc Ounis, Daeron’s business partner, stood smiling with arms folded over his apron and baker’s whites offering the exact answer they wanted to hear: The bakery would remain open.

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