Neighborhood bookstores in France survived on television and later the advent of online shopping. Then came the foreclosure of the coronavirus, an eight-week hiatus that weighed heavily on profit margins and threatens the survival of some stores.
French bookstores were allowed to reopen Monday for the first time since March 17, as the government tried to balance the need to revive a plummeting economy with the risk that the spread of the new coronavirus would accelerate again.
At the ICI bookstore in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, wearing a mask is compulsory and a hand sanitizer is readily available at the front door and inside to allow customers to pick up and leaf through the book that attracts the eye.
“People are careful not to touch the books too much. And we tell them that if they touch the books, they can but they have to use the gel (disinfectant) every time, “said co-founder Anne-Laure Vial.
The 12 Bouetard employees are back on the payroll after being put on temporary leave, and the store has requested two loans to help cover overhead costs.
France is a paradise for bibliophiles. There are large chains of bookstores, but independent bookstores are omnipresent in Parisian districts.
Inside, the hustle and bustle of the French capital slows down at a calm pace as customers scour the shelves.
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Culture of protection
France has jealously protected its cultural life and its institutions for decades. The French notion of cultural exception means more than cultural exceptionalism – it indicates the belief that national culture should be protected from the forces of the free market.
Subsidies, quotas, income support and tax breaks help support music, cinema and French literature. He also has a law that prevents bookstores from lowering prices to protect writers.
Despite everything, the margins are tight.
“The difficulty comes if we don’t get enough business to cover our costs,” said Vial, who is concerned about a slow rebound. “We have to last several months. It is not for granted. “
The government is aware of the dangers it and others face.
“They have very low margins, very low profits, and they could therefore find it difficult to find the finances to repay their loans,” said Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire during a visit to another bookstore during the week. last. “We could have a chain of bankrupt bookstores. This is exactly what we want to avoid. “
Six-year-old Marcel di Nicola browsed the ICI comic book shelves among the 60,000 titles on sale.
The lockdown, said her mother Florence, was a rare opportunity to focus on reading.
“We don’t leave him alone in front of the television. So as soon as the homework is done, we have to find another activity and something he can do on his own, “she said.
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