The sleepy northwestern Quebec hamlet of La Motte waved goodbye Thursday to the last of the media circus as it rolled out of town.
National and international news outlets had converged on the town over the last month, after Ouellet's name surfaced as a serious contender for the papacy. The media presence peaked as the papal conclave began earlier this week.
All the attention had stirred the imagination of locals like Lise Breault, co-owner of the general store. She liked the idea that La Motte could suddenly become the birthplace of a pope — and a tourist destination.
Breault says she received a verbal offer from a real-estate agent last week to sell Epicerie Chez Flo for $269,000, which is $17,000 more than what she'd asked for when she tried selling the place a couple of years ago.
She had made plans to start selling souvenirs — religious knick-knacks, T-shirts and ball caps — at the store, which is across the street from the old church where Ouellet was ordained as a priest.
Breault, 64, and her husband Flo, 68, dreamed that a papal-driven business boom might have translated into a faster retirement.
But the selection of Pope Francis of Argentina, instead of La Motte's Ouellet, now means they will likely have to work for a few more years.
"It's been 22 years that we've worked seven days a week," said Lise Breault, who ran another store in a different town before coming to La Motte.
"We wanted to retire to spend more time with our grandchildren."
Breault watched the last satellite TV truck rumble out of town Thursday morning, not long after a team of journalists filmed one last report from La Motte.
On Wednesday, the church parking lot across the street had been overflowing with media vehicles and TV news cameras.
The media spectacle wasn't welcome by all. It pierced the peacefulness of the isolated farming community of 439 people, 600 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
Many locals were concerned a Ouellet papacy would have signalled the end of the area's placidity.
On Thursday, however, life appeared to be returning to normal. There were no traces that 18 hours earlier 50-odd journalists were busy in a bustling media room in the heart of La Motte.
"The telephone isn't ringing any more. There are fewer people showing up here," said Rachel Cossette, the town's director general.
"People are happy things are returning to normal."
The municipality, which has just two full-time employees, is planning to discuss ways to commemorate its famous resident with something like a plaque, Cossette said.
"For sure it was a relief yesterday to find out it wasn't (Ouellet) because we didn't feel ready to handle such an increase in tourists," she said.
Signs of what might have been were evident Wednesday when, a few thousand kilometres away, white smoke was billowing out of a chimney at the Vatican.
A couple from nearby Val d'Or were the first to walk into La Motte's old church, which is now used mostly as a community centre.
The name of the new pontiff had not yet been released. But Francine Veillette-Plante and her husband wanted to be inside Ouellet's childhood church at that moment, just in case he got the nod.
"Wow, it is something," said Veillette-Plante, who was visibly moved.
She compared it to visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico.
"It's the same thing here," Veillette-Plante said. "This is something, this is something to be seen."
One day later, at the general store, Breault said most of her customers were pleased Thursday that everything was quiet again.
"They wanted to have their tranquility," she said.
"And in the end that's what they're going to get."Suggest a correction