'Our incomes have collapsed': Covid-19 threatens future of Paris's famed 'bouquinistes'

They form part of a centuries-old tradition and are an iconic feature of the French capital, but Paris's historic riverside booksellers, known as 'bouquinistes' are under threat. Like many other businesses that rely on tourism, Covid-19 has taken a devastating toll on their income. 

Booksellers on the banks of the River Seine in Paris on September 30, 2020. © Reuters / France 24
Booksellers on the banks of the River Seine in Paris on September 30, 2020. © Reuters / France 24 © Reuters

A total of 227 bouquinistes, who sell second-hand books as well as sometimes souvenirs, line the embankment of the River Seine. Their familiar green boxes were installed in the 19th century more than 400 years ago. 

But according to bookseller Jérôme Callais, who is also president of the Cultural Association of Paris Bouquinistes, two thirds of their income normally comes from tourists from abroad or elsewhere in France. 

With tourist numbers plummeting amid the pandemic, many bouquinistes are struggling to make ends meet. 

"The impact on business is totally negative, undermining people whose incomes were already sometimes very modest," he told Reuters. 

"Our income really collapsed from the middle of August. I sold a book for 16 euros today and that's a great day for me." 

"But I have loads of colleagues who don't even make that in a day, on weekdays from Monday to Friday, that's why you see so many of the boxes are closed. What I'm really nervous about is: Who is going to open up again when this is all over?" 

Despite being heavily dependent on tourism, the bouquinistes do not qualify for government aid designated for the tourism sector. 

"We're not a neighbourhood bookstore. We're booksellers on a tourist trail who are a jewel in the tourism crown of Paris, just like Notre Dame, the Louvre or Montmartre," said Callais. 

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