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Booksellers along Paris’ La Seine Face Pandemic-Driven Crisis

Booksellers along Paris’ La Seine Face Pandemic-Driven Crisis

Tuesday, 25 January, 2022 - 06:15
People gather along banks of the Seine river in Paris on the first day of France's easing of lockdown measures in place for 55 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus, May 11, 2020. (AFP Photo).

For centuries, curious visitors and bookworms from around the world dived in the kiosks of booksellers along the banks of the Seine, where they found rare and old prints that have long been missed. But the pandemic is threatening the existence of this cultural landmark in the French capital.

It's a chance to work "in an extraordinary setting,” Jerome Callais, president of the Bouquinistes association, who spent three decades on the Quai de Conti with 220 other booksellers searching and selling old books, told Agence France Press (AFP).

"Being a bouquiniste is often your last job -- you've done other things before. But once you start, you can't stop," he said.

Jean-Pierre Mathias, 74, who has been selling books opposite the statue of Condorcet, for 30 years, supports the idea of Callais.

“My boxes are a hundred years old, they still open fine and thanks to them I'm still in good health -- a bouquiniste doesn't stop working until he can no longer open them," he said.

But he acknowledges the industry is facing a challenging time, saying "some of my colleagues don't open much these days, they've given up a bit with this crisis". Many of Mathias’ clients are psychology students looking for books they find only on his shelves.

"There aren't any psychology bookstores in Paris anymore. I have taken over the top spot. But there are fewer customers these days -- between having to work from home and crimped budgets, it's harder for them as well,” he explained.

The bad weather conditions were not the only challenge facing the street bookstores along the Seine. Their work has also been affected by the yellow vests’ protests and the pandemic, which has forced many bouquiniste to shut down their kiosks.

“We have many plans, and we should survive,” confirmed Callais, noting that tourists are very rare. “Only 25 percent of our customers come from the Île-de-France,” which means the remaining 75 percent come from outside Paris and its suburbs.

The pavements feature 18 void spots, and the municipality received only 25 applications so far, compared to 60 in the past years for the same number of spots. But the registration will remain open for another month.

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