‘It’s over’: Olympics plan imperils iconic Paris booksellers

‘It’s over’: Olympics plan imperils iconic Paris booksellers

For 2024 Olympics, authorities want to move famous bookstalls that have been an integral part of the Parisian landscape for centuries

By Gizem Taskin Nicollet

PARIS (AA) – Along the banks of the Seine is a cultural treasure of Paris – “Les Bouquinistes,” the iconic bookstalls lining the river’s edge.

For centuries, this open-air library teeming with a veritable treasure trove of old and contemporary literary works has been an inseparable part of the city, drawing countless visitors from around the world every year.

However, as next year’s Olympics draw nearer, a cloud of uncertainty looms over its future.

Many of the booksellers have been asked to clear out, with officials mostly citing security concerns as the reason.

For the bouquinistes and their businesses, the decision is a death knell, and one taken without their assent.

“We had a first meeting (with local authorities) where we were told we would have a choice and given a form to fill out. They asked us if we would want our stalls removed from the area during the Olympics or just closed for that duration,” said Florence, who has a stall on the Quai de Gesvres, a lane on the right bank of the Seine.

“We filled out the form, but it was just a sham. I sincerely believe that the decision was already made, they knew they were going to move our stalls.”

Like many of her colleagues, the 59-year-old has a lot of questions on her mind. She is particularly worried because authorities have not given any clear information – how will the stalls be moved, when will they be allowed to reopen, and will that even happen?

“It is vital that our stalls stay where they are. Some of them will collapse if they are removed,” she told Anadolu.

“I don’t have a problem with mine, but I will stand in solidarity with the others … We’ll do whatever it takes.”

- Diminishing hopes

The booksellers say the Olympics plan has come at a time when the rise of online shopping, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a series of strikes in Paris over recent months have already taken a toll on their business, deepening their pessimism for the future.

Pascal, 58, has a stall on the Quai de Montebello, just next to the Notre Dame Cathedral. The business has been in his family for two generations, but he feels his time could soon be up.

“I’m seriously considering changing my job. No one wants to be a bouquiniste anymore. It’s over.”

He is particularly frustrated at the way authorities have handled the matter, saying their attitude has been dictatorial.

“There’s nothing we can do about it. They decided this for the Olympics, they say it’s going to be this way, and that’s it,” he told Anadolu.

“It’s like we don’t have any rights. We just endure. It’s been like this for 20 or 30 years. It’s always been like this.”

In the hopes of protecting their businesses and a tradition that goes as far back as the Renaissance era, the bouquinistes have also been pushing for UNESCO recognition.

“This is an institution. It is a part of Paris, like Notre Dame. It should be protected by UNESCO. It has been here for 400 years. It is a part of the culture and the soul of Paris,” said Pascal.

- ‘They don’t think we matter’

“The Paris municipality has never cared about the bouquinistes,” said Ancelle Guy, 68, another bookseller with a stall on the Quai de Gesvres.

“They haven’t included us in their plans, and we feel like they don’t think we matter. Our business doesn’t make them much money, so they don’t seem to care at all.”

For him, shuttering his stall during the Olympics is a better option than relocating completely.

“Who will move this? This has 3,000 books. Who will help me in relocating all of this, and where could I possibly find space for it all? All of this cannot fit in an apartment,” he said.

Juliette, a 60-year-old bouquiniste, emphasized that she is “not against the Olympics,” which are scheduled to run from July 26 to Aug. 11 next year.

“But if we are compelled to relocate, we need assurances from either the government or the municipality that we will be allowed to return,” she told Anadolu.

She said many notable aspects of French culture have already disappeared, and the bouquinistes fear a similar fate.

“We don’t bother anyone. Quite the contrary, in fact. Our presence contributes significantly to Paris, particularly with the foreign tourists,” she added.

Nearby, Saul, a tourist from the Netherlands, was browsing through the stalls, clearly enamored by the vast collection on display.

He said the eviction plan for the Olympics would “really affect the booksellers.”

“For the Olympics, you will have more people, more tourists, and maybe they will want to buy books, like me,” he said.

“This place attracts a lot of tourists, so closing it would be a shame.”

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