What is fifty years? In geological time, not even the blink of an eye. For an early settler, a life span wished for but often never reached. In the scope of social evolution, eons. For a locally owned small business like Campbell’s Bakery, it is, simply, quite an accomplishment.
“I consider it a testament to Mr. Campbell,” says Mitchell Moore, owner of Campbell’s Bakery. “Because he created something that has weathered and stood the test of time.”
If the bakery is a living thing, and it is alive, if only with decades of memories and glucose-ghosts of pastries and patrons past, it has managed to thrive even as owners and the neighborhood around it were ever-changing. Louis Campbell, who started the bakery in 1963, was the first great steward of the continuing legacy.
“I also give credit where credit is due, to Franklin Aldridge,” Mitchell says. “Mr. Campbell had it for twenty years, from 1963 — 83. Franklin Aldridge had it for twenty years, from 1983 — 2003. And Frank actually weathered the worst of it because at one time the Pix/Capri was an adult theater and he kept the business going. In the ‘80s, Fondren had a bad rep, and yet, the bakery survived.”
“I look around Fondren and it’s like this little microcosm of a big city,” Mitchell tells me. “You can walk down the street and it’s all races, all cultures, all socioeconomic backgrounds, and we’re all pushed into a three block radius. It’s kind of magical. It’s not hyperbole; it’s not like any other place.”
Change is constant but incremental, whether in the erosion of mountains made into canyons or the erosion of divisive prejudice keeping folks apart. In a city, a neighborhood, development sees buildings rise and fall, and only a few stand the test of time.
“Walker’s hasn’t stayed the same, Campbell’s hasn’t stayed the same, and the Capri hasn’t stayed the same,” Mitchell says. “But they’re here.” They survived. Survived to be something else, something better, something new.”
Bill and Joyce Newton were married in 1963 and will also be celebrating a 50th anniversary this year. They’re part of the history, too. Joyce tells me they were walking through Fondren one night way back then, and stopped in front of the Campbell’s storefront. The next day, she went back to order her wedding cake. Just recently, she showed a photograph of that cake to Moore and asked him to recreate it for their anniversary celebration.
“It makes me more aware of commitment,” says Joyce. “Commitment on my part on our wedding and commitment by Campbell’s Bakery, doing quality business with the neighborhood and staying in business this long.”
There will be a Campbell’s birthday party sometime this fall. And there will definitely be cake. “It will be the largest cake I’ve ever made in my life,” Mitchell says. “I’m really looking forward to it.”