The open-air bookstalls along the River Seine, known as “les bouquinistes,” are iconic symbols of Paris. However, most of these stalls will have to be dismantled and temporarily removed prior to the 2024 Summer Olympics for security reasons. The order issued by the Paris police chief has been met with resistance from the booksellers, who argue that it disregards the city’s history and soul. They have expressed their refusal to comply with the order, with some even considering barricading themselves in front of their stalls to prevent removal.
The bouquinistes, who operate every day from morning until dusk, have become a vital part of Paris’s literary culture. They attract both tourists and locals seeking rare books and have a tradition dating back to at least the 17th century. While the exact number may vary, there are approximately 230 open-air booksellers along the Seine, making it the largest open-air book market in Europe. However, around 170 of these stalls will be required to close for at least two weeks during the Paris Games, as indicated by city officials.
The unique format of the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics, set to take place along the Seine, has raised logistical and security concerns. The police have expressed worries about the possibility of bombs being hidden in the bookstalls. Unlike previous Olympic events held in less central areas, there is a stronger emphasis in Paris on preserving the city’s traditions and elements during the Games.
For many booksellers, losing several weeks of income during the peak summer tourist season would be devastating. Some already struggling from the impacts of the Yellow Vest protests and the COVID-19 pandemic fear the financial repercussions. While the police have suggested that the bouquinistes could temporarily relocate their stalls to the Bastille neighborhood, the booksellers argue that moving the heavy and delicate stalls could result in permanent damage.
City officials have offered to repair approximately 40 of the most fragile stalls while they are disassembled during the Olympics. Initially, the city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, proposed an alternative plan that would have allowed the stalls to remain in place if they passed a security assessment. However, this plan is no longer being considered as the police have deemed it necessary to remove the stalls for safety reasons.
Although it is a shame that tourists visiting for the Olympics will miss out on the sights of the bouquinistes, the booksellers believe that they will continue to thrive after the Games, as they are an integral part of what makes Paris picture perfect.