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A Rochester institution: Gingerbread House Bakery to close

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The Gingerbread house on North Broadway will be closing and is for sale. (Matt Stolle/mstolle@postbulletin.com)
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The Gingerbread House Bakery, a three-generation, mom-and-pop shop whose roots reach back to the 1940s, will close next month, the owner said Friday. 

It is likely the end of an era. 

Customers learned the news as they drove up to the quaint North Broadway shop to pick up their cinnamon rolls and donut holes via a hand-delivered typed letter written by owner Michael Fish.

"After three years of very few peaks and a lot of valley, my wife, five children and I feel the time has come to close our doors here at the Gingerbread House Bakery," said Fish, a fourth-generation baker. 

Sept. 7 will be the bakery's last day. An employee estimated that the shop employed between 15 and 20 people "tops."  

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Employees said there is a potential buyer — a family member or relative — and that more will be known about a possible sale next week. 

With its rustic stove and vintage bread signs, stepping into the Rochester bakery at 1106 N. Broadway felt like stepping back in time. The bakery built a loyal customer base and reputation that stretched well beyond Rochester. 

John Fish, the last owner before handing the reins over to his son, Michael, was inducted into the Midwest Bakery Association Convention's Hall of Fame in 2012.

It was also a fun place to work, an employee said. In 2008, the bakery etched itself a place in the Guinness World Records for baking the largest gingerbread man.

"It's very sad. I hope they can find a new buyer," said Roland, a lifelong customer who lives in Alaska but visits Rochester regularly to vacation with family.

Roland had stopped at the bakery Friday afternoon to pick up some donuts and sugar cookies for his six sisters, who were expected to arrive in town Saturday. 

"It's no joke. It was the first place we came to (when we arrived in Rochester)," he said. "I've been coming here my whole life."

The decision to close the shop, known for its donut holes and cinnamon and caramel rolls, stemmed from a number of factors: The cost and uncertainty associated with the planned reconstruction and rezoning of Broadway, the age of the building, and the struggles the business has had this year. 

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"We thought we would stick it out through the end of the year, but it's just going to be hard to keep it going," said employee Grace Condron. 

Condron began working at the Gingerbread House at age 16. Now 23, Condron said the family-owned, Christian faith-based shop cared about its employees and treated them like family.

The place sought to provide not only physical nourishment but spiritual support to its employees and customers. Customers would be greeted with a Bible verse on a white board, and a prayer meeting for employees marked the beginning of the day. 

One time, when Condron's family struggled to buy groceries, John Fish bought the family groceries and "never asked for the money back." 

Employees held out hope for a sale, but the potential buyer was advised to think about it long and hard before making a decision. 

"We want it to stay open," Condron said. "It's just going to be really hard with all the changes, the economy and Broadway." 

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