Paris,  Travel,  Uncategorized

French Friday: Les Bouquinistes

Setting up for the day

 I adore Paris for its open air markets, and les bouquinistes are like open air markets for used books: simply paradise for this bibliophile!

These booksellers have been a part of the Parisian landscape almost as long as the invention of the printing press . They first peddled their wares in wheelbarrows, but in the late 1800s the government granted the bouquinistes permanent legal status. Today the iconic dark green metal boxes line the sidewalks on both sides of the Seine near Notre Dame.


There is an extensive waiting list to receive an official license – approximately 8 years. But for a book lover like myself, I would say it is well worth the wait.

not yet open for business

The license entitles the bouquinistes to own four metal boxes, which they must purchase themselves along with the official color paint: vert wagon. In addition, they must pay 100 euro a year to rent the sidewalk space.

While the Parisian government dictates bouquinistes may only sell books – the continual decline in consumer reading has slightly modified these restrictions. To help with profit margins, one of the boxes may now be used to sell popular souvenirs.

There are more than two hundred bouquinistes in the approximate one square mile area. Bouquinistes are required to open their stalls a minimum of four days a week, but the hours seem to vary from person to person. Opening and closing up shop is convenient and easy, as the merchandise remains on site and locked within.

“My” Bouquiniste

I could saunter from bookseller to bookseller for an entire afternoon and never grow bored. While many offer similar merchandise, there is always something unique about each individual stall. I particularly enjoy viewing the old postcards from the turn of the century (20th century that is), and in fact purchased several as research for my novel.

I don’t shop the bouquinistes to find a bargain (although there might be literary treasures to discover), I go instead for the uniquely Parisian experience: to leisurely walk the historic streets along the most famous river in the most cosmopolitan city surrounded by the simple comfort of books.

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