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City Bakery closing after 120 years

Family behind century-old Trail bakery looks to the future
Rino Merlo at the City Bakery counter before the last week of business. Sheri Regnier photo

There’s only three more days to get your daily fix of fresh baking from City Bakery.

After 120 years of business in the Trail community - 87 of those in the hands of the Merlo family - the “baked fresh daily” shop is closing its doors for good on Saturday.

Hours this week are 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. today (Wednesday) and Friday (closed Thursday) and Saturday, 7 a.m. until 1 p.m.

While this may seem a bittersweet story at first - after all, another pioneering Trail business is closing - it really isn’t.

That’s because Rino and Grace Merlo, owners of City Bakery since 1973, are all about looking ahead to future needs in the City of Trail.

They have plans to re-purpose the estate, which extends from the Cedar Avenue Lotto outlet past the bakery, to the ComfortWalk & Orthotics Solution shoe store.

“I never look back,” said Rino.

“Economically (the decision was made), in that it was no longer viable, yet the property being put to different uses would yield more of a return for me and my family.”

Yes, City Bakery is shutting down for good, but the Merlos are not out-of-business or new ideas.

“We’ve already done some work, we started from the roof and worked down,” said Rino. “We’ve changed two apartments and are in the process, in the next year, of putting in one or two more apartments.”

This was the year to make the decision, though Rino says marketing changes and people’s buying habits for bread and baked goods have certainly changed over the decades, and made it very difficult for an independent to compete with business giants like Dempster’s.

So it’s time to move on.

But that doesn’t mean Rino’s lifetime of memories will ever fade, and those recollections shine a nostalgic light on what it was like to grow up in downtown Trail during the war years, the flood years and through the dawn of technology.

Rino was born in 1935 and lived above City Bakery, except when attending university, until he married Grace in 1960.

His father Guiseppe (Joe) and Zio Alphonso (Uncle Al) bought the business from their older brother Federico in 1930, back when dough rose overnight, wood fueled the ovens, and bread sold for 7 cents a loaf.

Joe passed away in 1995, but fortunately, part of his story is forever memorialized in the City of Trail history books.

Sarah Benson, director of the Trail Museum and Archives, provided the Trail Times with City Bakery history beginning with the 1895 date of construction, and she included this excerpt from Joe Merlo.

“My only work was my own bakery, and it was hard work but I was satisfied with the profit. In those days, bread sold for seven cents to twenty-five cents for a 16 oz. loaf. I sold mostly twenty-five cent loaves. I apprenticed with my older brother in the bakery, and I bought the business from him with my younger brother Alfonso, in 1930. We didn’t have money so we paid some money every year for the bakery till we paid it off. We paid $13,000 for the bakery.

“We did not have a lot of schooling but the language made it worse when we came here. We could not communicate even in our own language and other people did not understand us and we did not understand them, it was hard.”

Once Rino and his brothers Mario and Albert came along, Joe and Al were busy running the bakery downstairs while Irma, the family matriarch, ran the show one level up.

At one time, there were 14 members of family and extended family living in the upstairs quarters - Irma provided meals for everyone, including the workers at City Bakery.

“She did the cooking for the families,” said Rino. “So everybody worked in the bakery and they’d go up for lunch … lots of times my mother cooked for 18 people, (between) kids, family and the store.”

One of Rino’s earliest memories dates back to the war years when he was just a lad. He was downstairs in the bakery with his father one night, when they were startled by knocking on the window.

“There was an air raid practice,” he recalled. “We had a light on back there and they rapped on the window and told us to turn the light off … that was the early ’40s during the war … I was just a little kid, but I still remember them rapping on the window.”

Rino shared another story that carried on through the Merlo generations, courtesy of Joe. And this humorous tale must have provided many laughs around the dinner table through the years.

“When they were building the Cambridge Dam (Violin Lake, 1920s) my Dad used to go up there once a week with a horse and buggy to take bread to the camp,” Rino said.

“So coming down one time, a bear spooked the horse. My Dad couldn’t stop the horse until it got to the barn we had out back from the bakery … the horse pulled right into the barn because it was safe now, but in the meantime, it completely demolished the wagon.”

Growing up in the bakery meant the Merlo boys were put to work in the family business, and one of those jobs included clearing out the basement every year.

The reason?

Floods, and lots of them.

Rino says some years were bad, some years there was no flooding. But the one incident he will always remember, and it remains just as vivid today, is when Trail Creek flooded in 1969.

“The stock had just come in and I was putting it on the shelves,” Rino began. “All of a sudden there was water on the floor, and then I hear a real gush and the water started rising.”

By the time he reached the stairs, the situation had become dire.

“Fortunately there was a banister and I pulled myself up,” he said. “By the time I got to the top of the stairs the water was about a foot and a half to two feet rushing into the basement.”

There were two girls working that day, Rina Tavaroli and Fanny Bunne.

“I went to the back door and kicked the window out,” Rino explained. “Then I lifted them through because we couldn’t open the door, there was so much mud.”

Following the historic flooding, the family worked around the clock for eight days to get City Bakery up and running.

“We worked hard,” he reminisced. “I remember that first week we were open we had an order for 50 or 60 apple pies.

“We baked them the day before and they sat on the rack overnight … the next morning all the pies were moldy because it was still so damp in the building.”

Rino has many memories to share of days gone by in Trail. But he’s quick to point out that now is the time to forge new memories with his three sons - all of whom have moved back to Trail and partnered with their parents to renovate the Cedar Avenue property.

“Our decision (to close City Bakery) is what my boys and I are doing,” he said.

“They are really involved, we are not sitting back waiting for developments to come and utilize or want to utilize our property,” Rino added.

“We have a game plan, and we are continuing with that.”

Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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