I have had the pleasure of visiting Paris many times over the last 40 years. And ever time that I’m in Paris the iconic bookstore Shakespeare and Company is one of my first stops. Even if you have never been to Paris, it’s likely that you have seen photos of the historic shop. Sadly, during the pandemic the landmark bookstore has experienced an 80% drop in revenue since March. Located just a stones throw from Notre Dame Cathedral, on the Left Bank, the shop usually attracts hundreds of visitors a day to its warren of book packed rooms.
The late American-born George Whitman took over the bookshop in 1951, but it was originally founded in 1919 by Sylvia Beach. For decades, Shakespeare and Company was a magnet for great writers like James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anaïs Nin, James Baldwin, and Ernest Hemingway.
Today, the historic bookshop is run by George’s daughter, Sylvia Whitman, who has appealed to customers to support it through buying a tote bag, placing an online order for a book or gift or purchasing a gift voucher for future use. Fans can also subscribe to a “Year of Reading,” where they will receive 12 books selected and introduced by the store’s team of booksellers. You can check out Shakespeare and Company’s website here.
Proprietor Sylvia Whitman told the Guardian: “We’re not closing our doors, but we’ve gone through all of our savings… which we were lucky to build up, and we have also been making use of the support from the government, and especially the furlough scheme. But it doesn’t cover everything, and we’ve delayed quite a lot of rent that we have…. Right now our cafe and bookshop is open, but it’s looking like we will have to close both because bookshops are considered non-essential. The one big difference is that we’re adamant this time we’re going to be ready to keep the website open.”
“Today, each morning, taking down the wooden shutters, opening those same doors, and welcoming readers and writers–whether travelers from across the world or the Parisians who are still able to visit us–always feels like an immense privilege. Because, as well as being a bookshop, Shakespeare and Company is a community, a commune (often literally), of which you are all a part. We are here today, almost seventy years after that first morning, because of you. We send our best wishes for your health and safety. May we all thrive together soon.”
The bookstore is worthy of sustaining patrons, but it is dishonest to pretend that this version of the shop is identical to shop founded by S. Beach. Nostalgia bores me.
I hesitated in posting this story since I’ve been critical of Sylvia’s allowance of influencers and Instagrammers to take over the shop. When I’m in Paris, I usually visit many actual antiquarian shops, but I do have a soft spot for S & Co. I had the chance many years ago to spend time in the shop under the old socialist regime and it has been a fond memory. Struggling to keep my own book biz afloat for years, I try not to be too judgmental these days.
So many shops and restaurants are in trouble or gone. So sad. Hope the store survives.
All of your content is just amazing 🙂
Thank you. TBTP helps to keep me from freaking out, especially when I can’t travel.
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