While polls show that a majority of French people support the reconfinement to curb the country’s vertiginous number of COVID cases and fatalities, they are still upset about a lot of things.
The closure of shops selling so-called “non-essential” items – particularly bookshops – is one of them.
In an attempt to level the playing field the French government has ordered that supermarkets, hypermarchés and grands surfaces (i.e., stores with a surface area over 400m2) also stop selling such “non-essential” items (e.g., books, toys, clothes, homewares and Christmas decorations). This has led to heated debates about what is and is not “essentiel” and surreal scenes as aisles are cordoned off.
Some retailers have quickly pivoted into online sales and “click and collect” services. (There is – so far – no catchy French equivalent for this term. Over the Summer, the green vests at the Academie Française proposed “retrait en magasin“, but somehow – between the extra two syllables and the lack of alliteration – it hasn’t taken off.)
However, not all businesses have the know-how, budget or infrastructure to put such methods in place. As one friend said, it’s easy for the “bobo” (a contraction of bourgeois-bohemian, which for our purposes roughly equates to young, hip and internet savvy) retailers and restaurants to adapt to online sales and arrange delivery services. It’s more difficult for the charming specialty stores that give Paris – and France more generally – their charm.
When you first arrive in France and you need to furnish your immense chambre de bonne, you quickly discover grandes surfaces such as BHV (which stands for Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville) and Leroy Merlin (a French hardware store which, for the longest time, I thought was called Le Roi Merlin in some sort of King Arthur tribute).
Then you learn about the larger, but also distinctly French, go-to stores. Need curtains? Go to Madura. Or, if you’re in Paris and you’re feeling really brave, go to one of the fabric stores around the Marché Saint Pierre, choose some fabric and have some made. (And then, ahem, give up and buy some off the rack from King Merlin.)
Need hiking, skiing or outdoor gear more generally? Go to Au Vieux Campeur, a Paris institution which describes itself as a “village de 30 boutiques“. And it’s not kidding – rather than having one, multi-level store, there are various store fronts (separated via speciality) dotted throughout the Latin Quarter around its flagship store on rue des Ecoles. When you go into the boot store asking for ski gear they even give you a printed little map to navigate yourself to the correct store (and, fun fact, they even have a map store!).
Need a new saucepan? Go to E. Dellerin near Les Halles, a cooking utensils store where they have copper saucepans aplenty and a coded pricing system that is impossible to understand. (Then, if you need baking supplies, go to G. Detou in rue Tiquetonne in the second arrrondisement – mentioned in my last blog post – which is still open at the moment.)
After you’ve been here for a while, you begin to discover the joy of the even smaller, independent specialty stores which specialize in just one product or category of products. Some of these petits commerces are so niche that they make you wonder – even in ordinary times – how they can survive.
It’s particularly true of my neighbourhood, which is full of hidden arcades and covered passageways, housing tiny boutiques (some with extremely petite surfaces) and curiosity shops.
Take, for example, our local haunt Palais Royal. Amongst the minimalist designer clothes stores, you can find Galerie Antic-Tac, which specialises in selling vintage pendulum clocks and L’Orientale R . V . K, a tiny store which has been selling pipes and smoking accessories since 1818. (As anyone who knows me will say, I am not one to condone smoking, but even I get a kick of peering through the cluttered windows of this place).
As mentioned in my last blog post, as a result of the current restrictions, we are only allowed outside for certain, authorised reasons, including exercise within a 1km radius of our homes and shopping for necessities. Although the 1km rule technically only applies to exercise, most people are sticking in their local area for their shopping trips, too.
This has got me thinking more generally about the number of charming little petits commerces in my area. And, mercifully, the options are plentiful:
Madeleine is offering a click & collect service at the moment; you can browse the catalogue here and call or email to order. Then you go and knock on the door – toc toc toc – and she will come down to meet you. And she is giving out free colouring-in pictures, too!
While you’re in the area you can also check out Pain d’Epices in Passage Jouffroy, near the Musée Grévin (a.k.a. the Madame Tussauds of Paris), which specialises in miniature toys and is currently taking online orders with delivery or click & collect from 15h to 18h.
Looking for some confiseries? Try Tetrel, an old-fashioned candy store just near the Passage Choiseul. Tetrel prides itself on selling spécialités de terroir (yes, even the candies in France can be linked to particular regions, #VivelaFrance), including Nougat de Montélimar and Calissons d’Aix. Sure, the patronne can be a little gruff (just read the Google reviews or this article … “de bon conseil, bien que pas toujours agréable…“), but at the moment she is open and more than happy for the business (and she even let me take a photo or two, despite her strict store policy against it – Emily in Paris-types, begone!).
If it’s gifts you’re after, stop by the gorgeous vintage store L’effet bulles in the nearby Passage Choiseul. It’s a sort of mini brocante, with treasures especially “chinés” (an adjective derived from the wonderful French verb “chiner“, meaning to hunt for bargains at flea markets, antique stores or Op Shops – a.k.a one of my favourite things to do) by Sylvie and her husband. If you spot something in the window (or on the website) that you fancy, you can call or email Sylvie to arrange click & collect (Tuesday to Friday, 14h to 19h), or there is free delivery for purchases over 150 euro.
And if you can’t find your bonheur there, double back to gift store aBis Paris in Galerie Vivienne, which is offering a “Window & Collect” service. You can browse products and order via their social media pages and then make an appointment with Agnès to go and collect them. Delivery within Paris is also possible.
And of course, it would be remiss of me not to give a special dédicace to all of the independent bookstores in Paris, many of which remain open for click & collect or delivery (kudos to the French government for drastically reducing the postage fees for bookstores during the reconfinement).
Here are a few of my local favourites (although of course there are many others):
- Red Wheelbarrow, an independent literary bookstore with a large selection of English books (which moved to the Left Bank two years ago after 11 years in the Marais) is taking click & collect reservations via email and social media. Books can be collected from 14h and 18h everyday of the week or delivery/postage can be arranged.
- Galignani, a Paris institution which has been under the arcades of Rue de Rivoli since 1801 and houses an extensive English language book selection. Galignani is currently doing click & collect from Monday to Saturday from 12h to 17h and delivery.
- Ici, the biggest independent bookshop in Paris, which is open for click & collect from 9h to 19h from Monday to Saturday, along with delivery, and has opened a dedicated hotline you can call for book advice and recommendations.
- Libraire Delamain, opposite the Comédie Française, Paris’s oldest bookshop, is open for click & collect from 10h-20h Monday-Friday and 13h-18h on Sundays.
- Libraire Petite Egytpe at the top of rue Montorgueil, which is open for orders, book reservations and advice on the doorstop from 11h-19h from Monday to Saturdays and via email. (And while you’re at it, pop across the road to Hoppy Corner for an artisanal beer, or around the corner to Boneshaker Doughnuts or Jean Hwang Carrant for a sweet treat, all of which are currently open for takeaway.)
- Shakespeare and Company, another Paris institution, which, following a recent call for support (as sales were down over 80%), found itself inundated with over 7000 orders and has had to shut down its online shop temporarily. A “Call & Collect” service is available for readers in Paris (books must be reserved by phone in advance).
Finally, I couldn’t resist including a shout-out to two of my favourite independent specialty bookstores (a niche within a niche!):
- The Librairie Gourmande on rue Montmartre, which specialises in cookbooks and all things food-related. Open for deliveries click & collect from 10h to 14h on weekdays and until 17h on Saturdays.
- The Librairie des Alpes on rue de Seine, Paris’s only bookstore specialising in the alps and all things montagneux, which is currently open for click & collect and deliveries.
Voilà that’s it from me. Happy shopping et vivent les petits commerces !