Behind picturesque storefronts, Paris bookstores bleeding out

Le Bouquinaire, a bookshop with an over thirty year tenure on the rue de Martyrs, seems out of a storybook: bodies constantly pop through the door, letting in a warm wind that fills the narrow stacks of a cozy kingdom surveyed by the old, tautly-faced owner perched on his stool in the corner. Guy Bertin, 71, plays the character of the quietly-sour bookseller; his temperament seems part of the Parisian bookshop’s setting. Behind Bertin’s mood, though, is a real frustration at the shape of independent bookstore culture, and a real fear for the future of his shop, which make the picture seem a little more drained of color.

Independent bookstores are struggling to keep their doors open, and Bertin’s long tenure on the rue de Martyrs does not grant him immunity from booksellers’ communal fear. Although landlords have primes granted by the government that make rent more affordable, expenses are rising, and sales are dipping.

“It is not possible that this can remain as a bookshop,” Bertin says in response to Le Bouquinaire’s future after he sells it. He says that in the last year alone, fifteen bookshops in Paris have closed, leaving only three survivors. “All you need to do is walk around Paris to see the change.”

During his time on the rue de Martyrs, Bertin has watched the world change. He ascribes the dip in readership to the Internet, an impending threat facing independent bookshops across Paris. “Before, maybe 100 people wouldn’t have a TV or the Internet,” he says. “Now, maybe 10 don’t have them.”

Bertin offers one solution: if city hall designates his and other bookshops for cultural uses—to  not just fix the price of rent, but reduce or eradicate it entirely—as it has for other spaces around the city, his business might be able to survive. Bertin is clear about the urgency of the situation: this is “the only way to stop the hemorrhage,” he says. His sour disposition makes a bit more sense when his goal is no longer to thrive, but perhaps just to survive.

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