I realize little by little that I am reporting here on a world that may no longer exist in a few decades. La Rochelle may be invaded by the waters while Brouage, surrounded by land, will find its destiny as a seaport again.

In the same vein, the Parisian booksellers called the “bouquinistes”, these famous open-air bookstores which have been listed as French intangible cultural heritage since 2019, are threatened with temporary, or even permanent disappearance for some.

The city of Paris has in fact considered it essential, for security reasons during the 2024 Olympic Games, to move the famous “boxes” used to store the books of the “bouquinistes” who give so much charm and life to the banks of the Seine river. In addition to the fact that the boxes are difficult to remove, the temporary discontinuance of activity may financially destroy many “bouquinistes”.

The removal would certainly be made free of charge, but also without compensation for the “bouquinistes”.

This is not the first time that the profession has been threatened.

Their 16th century ancestors, the street vendors (who sell their books in a basket carried over the shoulder) and the “estaleurs” (who sell their books presented on trestles or on the ground) who practice their trade on the few masonry banks of Paris, see their activity threatened in 1649 by the intervention of booksellers who see it as a form of competition. The profession persists, however, and even expands as the building of the Parisian quays progresses.

Later, the prefect Haussmann wants them to leave the banks of the Seine in 1866, but thanks to the intervention of the bibliophile Paul Lacroix with Napoleon III, the “bouquinistes” are finally authorized to stay. Better, a decree of 1891 authorizes them to leave their belongings overnight at the place of sale granted to them.

The shape and dimensions of the boxes are made official in 1891 and must all be of the same color, that is to say “wagon green”, like the first metropolitan, the Morris columns and the Wallace fountains which adorn Paris.

Today, some 200 “bouquinistes” manage 900 boxes over three kilometers where some 300,000 ancient and second-hand books are exhibited, on the right and left banks.

Each “bouquiniste”, who is granted a concession by the Paris city hall, can occupy 8 meters of parapet, or four boxes. Only one box out of four can be dedicated to the sale of objects and trinkets – the remaining three boxes must be dedicated to the sale of old and second-hand books. “Bouquinistes” no longer have a concession fee to pay to the city of Paris, but with monthly incomes that fluctuate between 600 and 1,300 euros, it is clear that the profession is above all a matter of passion.

Some “bouquinistes” are real experts and often colorful personalities.

Charles Nodier, who was already worried in 1840 about the disappearance of the profession, considered that it is sometimes the “bouquiniste”’s conversation “that is much more curious than his books”. I confirm. And that is why the profession must be preserved.

September 1, 2023