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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Bittersweetly, Lucy Gustafson prepares to shut down her slice-of-France chocolates shop in northwest Santa Rosa’s fire zone at the end of the business day Saturday.

Connoisseurs and brides and tourists and romantics kept Recherche du Plaisir — “Search for Pleasure” — bustling for almost seven years.

Located in a modest Cleveland Avenue retail center between the damaged Trader Joe’s and ravaged Kmart, the shop displays the exquisite rewards of Forestville native Gustafson’s 30-year fascination with fine, handmade chocolates.

The self-taught chocolatier entered many of her candies in Harvest Fairs and took home 42 awards, none lower than a silver.

Gustafson said business has fallen off so sharply the past seven months she has no choice but to close the shop. I asked her if the Tubbs fire had anything to do with it.

“Everything to do with it,” she said. “We lost about 70 percent of our customer base that one night.”

The aftermath of the Tubbs fire proved to be a perfect storm for Recherche du Plaisir.

Beyond the loss of customers whose lives were thrown into crisis by the flames that menaced the Larkfield, Wikiup, Mark West and Fountaingrove neighborhoods, the shop saw a sudden end to visits by guests of the destroyed Fountaingrove Inn and Hilton Sonoma County Wine Country.

On top of that, drop-ins by people headed to or from the temporarily shuttered Trader Joe’s halted, and the local wedding scene has slumped.

She’s brokenhearted to be closing the shop, but also counting her blessings and well aware that many were hurt far worse. What a gift it’s been, Gustafson said, to have her chocolates sweeten so many weddings and showers and other celebrations of every sort, and Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthdays, and other special moments and traditions.

“I still have a passion for it,” she said. Who knows where she and her affection for confections might surface in the future.

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HOUSE OF HUGH, SAL: A home for sale a quick walk from Santa Rosa’s Montgomery High School is causing more than the usual buzz.

At 60 years old, the ranch-style Creekside Road house with a turnaround driveway is short of historic. But it’s storied.

Post-WWII developer extraordinaire Hugh Codding built it and was its first occupant. A second family owned it when Sal Rosano moved to Santa Rosa in 1974 to take over from the late Melvin “Dutch” Flohr as the city’s police chief.

Sal is struck by the home’s current asking price: $1 million.

He’d bought it 44 years ago for $115,000, “a significant sum in those days.”

Sal recalls, “It made the front page at the time in The Press Democrat since I guess it was news that I was coming to town and had purchased Hugh Codding’s house.”

Sal liked the place, had some good times there.

“But high school kids took to driving over the lawn at night when they found out who had moved in!”

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DEMOCRACIES CAN DIE far more subtly than with despots in tanks crashing the gates of the presidential palace and ruthlessly ushering elected leaders to death or exile.

Occidental native Daniel Ziblatt and fellow Harvard government professor Steven Levitsky caution that the slide to dictatorship may go largely unnoticed, as voters continue to vote and newspapers continue to publish as a nation descends into autocracy.

“Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible,” the pair wrote in their best-selling new book, “How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future.”

Ziblatt, who attended Occidental’s Harmony School, is coming home to talk about the book and about what he perceives must be done to halt the backsliding that imperils America and other liberal democracies.

He’ll be at the Occidental Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. May 18. For tickets in advance go to brownpapertickets.com/event/3393810.

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SEEKING PISMO: Some of the same animal lovers who’ve worked like dogs to find and rescue cats scattered by the October fires search now for Pismo, who was snatched and dumped miles from his home in Windsor.

When Dawn Leandro and her family couldn’t find their gray and white, green-eyed cat, a neighbor fessed up to catching it in a raccoon trap and releasing it in vineyards near Mill Creek Vineyards and Winery, on Westside Road outside of Healdsburg.

The neighbor has said he believes Pismo is the cat that kept him awake at night with its howling. Dawn Leandro said she doubts that was Pismo.

“I’m thinking our cat was just in the wrong place at the right time,” she said.

As she looks for Pismo she marvels at the outpouring of help from cat lovers and searchers who’ve been on high alert ever since the fires.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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