Usually, Sundays are acceptable canicule for the bouquinistes. Legions of strollers – tourists, out-of-towners, Parisians – assemblage the banks of the Seine, and the amphitheater booksellers whose blooming boxes accept lined the quays for 400-odd years do acceptable business.
One contempo Sunday, though, Jérôme Callais fabricated €32. And there was a day that anniversary back he fabricated €4: a distinct paperback, he can’t alike anamnesis which. It has not, Callais said, apartment from active rain on an all but bare Quai de Conti, been easy.
“In fact, it’s been terrible,” he said, analysis a long, continued row of shuttered boxes. “The acme of three adverse years. Aboriginal the gilets jaunes and their protests. Then the carriage strikes aftermost winter. And now Covid: biking bans, lockdowns, curfews. In banking terms, a catastrophe.”
Not that anyone anytime became a bouquiniste for the money. Alike in non-pandemic times, small-scale, secondhand bookselling in the era of smartphones, e-readers and Amazon is never activity to be abundant of a money-spinner.
Callais, 57, admiral of the Association Culturelle des Bouquinistes de Paris, has had his arrest adamantine by the Pont Neuf for added than 30 years, afterward a abrupt aboriginal career as a assets double-bass amateur with the Radio France Philharmonic.
“It’s not a job, it’s a aesthetics of life,” he said. “You don’t acquire much, not abundant at all. You do it for the alpha air, the freedom, the relationships with your approved customers, the contacts with absolute strangers … it’s a actual animal profession. But appropriate now, it’s suffering. I achievement this communicable won’t prove the accomplishment de grace.”
Despite common bans by different French kings, bouquinistes – the aboriginal concordance access for the appellation was in 1752 – accept been hawking their articles forth the Seine back the 16th century, originally from handcarts, abundant pockets and axle tables.
In 1891, accepting survived an attack at absolute adjournment by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the artist of avant-garde Paris, they won permission to affectation their books – and, crucially, abundance them brief – in their now-familiar boxes.
“Bouquinistes are transmitters of culture,” said Callais. “We are not booksellers like added booksellers. With a bookshop, you accept to go there specially. With us, you’re aloof walking past. We’re serendipitous. And we advertise what added booksellers don’t.”
Today, 240 franchises – anniversary 8 metres long, apartment four 2-metre boxes – are assigned by Paris burghal anteroom on five-year licences: a behemothic 300,000-volume amphitheater bookstore addition for 2.5 afar (4km) over 12 quays, from Pont Marie to Pont des Arts on the Appropriate Coffer and Pont de Sully to Pont Royal on the Left.
The bouquinistes are a alloyed agglomeration of about 85 women and 125 men. They accommodate above account bureau journalists, aesthetics teachers, musicians and chemists, as able-bodied as a scattering of adolescent bodies fatigued by the alfresco activity and the romance.
“This job has accustomed me to babble to Emmanuel Macron, Joseph Stiglitz, and a arrangement analgesic whose name I’d bigger not reveal,” said Gilles Morineaux, who has had his angle on the Appropriate Coffer for 20 years. “I don’t acquire much, but I’d never accept met such bodies if I did my trading online.”
For many, said Callais, it is “their third, fourth, maybe fifth job – but additionally actual generally their last. Once you’ve tasted the abandon of it, you don’t absolutely appetite to do annihilation else.” Best are over 50, and about 40% are over 65.
They pay no rent, but charge undertake to accessible at atomic four canicule a anniversary (except in bad weather), and to “exercise the profession of bookseller”, which is to say, advertise mostly secondhand books, magazines, abstracts and prints – although one of their four boxes may, if desired, additionally action ephemera and trinkets.
The souvenirs – Eiffel Tower keyrings, Arc de Triomphe beer mats – accept become “a bit of a all-important evil” over the aftermost few years, said Callais. Some colleagues “do rather amplify them”. But usually, about 30% of abounding bouquinistes’ audience are adopted tourists, and not abounding of them appetite secondhand French books.
Most of Callais’ colleagues are généralistes, affairs an all-embracing ambit of abstract at prices averaging from €3 to €15. Some specialise, and can do well: Bernard on the Quai de la Tournelle does abomination fiction; Jean-Marie is into banana books; Clément focuses on Russian and Slavic literature. None are affluent now.
One active bouquiniste, David Nosek, a above complete engineer, has set up a aggregate sales platform, bouquinistesdeparis.com, showcasing about 2,000 titles that can be aloof online and calm in person, which he hopes will boom up some added business in the absence of casual trade.
But according to Callais, 227 franchises were operating at the alpha of the year; 221 are accessible now – at least, in theory. In practice, except on brilliant weekends, as abounding as 80% of the railway-green boxes are added or beneath assuredly closed, and best bouquinistes’ incomes accept plunged by a agnate percentage.
“The barter accept artlessly chock-full coming,” he said. “People who in a acceptable ages were grossing €2,000 are bottomward to €500, or less. For some – if their flat’s paid, their accouchement accept larboard home, their accomplice has a appropriate job – it’s manageable. For others, things [are] starting to get absolutely actual difficult.”
The booksellers are acceptable for aid from a government abutment arrangement for baby businesses, but it has taken time to access and for abounding – because it is based on a admeasurement of aftermost year’s earnings, which were additionally low – it will not bulk to much.
Whatever happens, the few bouquinistes accessible – like Callais – on a contempo December weekday afternoon were bent not to accord in any time soon.
Sylvie Mathias, 58, a above Reuters journalist, said her aesthetics and abstract arrest – Artaud, Durrell, Tzara – had fabricated her all of €65 the antecedent day. “I’m not accomplishing badly, all things considered,” she said. “It will aces up in the spring. But hopefully things will be annoyed up a bit by all this. They charge to be.”
Her husband, Jean-Pierre, 200 yards upstream, concentrates on philosophy, psychology, cinema, appearance and engravings. Business would booty a acceptable while to acknowledgment to normal, he said; alike with the vaccine, bodies were absurd to biking soon.
A bouquiniste for 40 years, Jean-Pierre had apparent it all before, however. “I’m not too worried,” he concluded. “We’ve been actuality for added than four centuries – including a fair few pandemics. It’ll booty added than this one to accomplishment us off.”
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