If you are a shopper, especially if you are a shopper for all things food related, you NEED to visit this store. It’s located on the Left Bank, in the 7th arrondisement at the intersection of the Rue de Sèvres and Rue du Bac. The original store was founded in 1838 to sell lace, ribbons, buttons, and various other small sundries, and had twelve employees. By 1879, it had just under 1,800 employees in its first building, which was constructed from 1869 to 1872. The building was enlarged several times (one of the architects/engineers was Gustave Eiffel’s engineering firm) and in 1911-1913, a second building was constructed, in the Art Deco style. This second building was requisitioned in World War I as a military hospital, was later destroyed by fire (1915), but then rebuilt in 1924. Both buildings were completely renovated in 2012 by the current owners.
An interesting societal aspect of the creation of this “grand magasin” (literally “large store) is that it marked the appearance of the “middle class” who would then become its primary clientele. Le Bon Marché was very innovative for its time, its owner using various new and different marketing ploys, including: a reading room for husbands while their wives shopped; entertainment for children; and sending catalogs to its customers.
Also interesting was the fact that by 1880, over half of its employees were women, and those that were unmarried were allowed to live in dormitories on the upper floors.
The store has not only a huge variety of prepackaged options (mustards, teas, oils, spices):
but also large selections of fresh produce, fresh seafood, and even small eating areas with small menus of available prepared items.
I have always assumed that most of its business came from tourists, but I was there on Sunday and there were lots of Parisians doing their shopping as well. It is a business model that is greatly benefiting from today’s renewed love and interest in food and cooking in general.
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