Shakespeare and Company
Whether an ode (in name) to the first Shakespeare and Company, or a fully-fledged dedication to the original, the bookstore that currently stands (of the same name) is both a landmark to behold and to make one pause. From the outside, it takes up the place of two storefronts, but hey, sometimes if a store gets popular enough it will consolidate the neighboring facilities around and even above it. So that in of itself, not the biggest of deals. No, what strikes me is the sheer amount of books. Now, yes, it is a very famous, very well known bookstore, but even so, they’ve got bookshelves on the sidewalk outside! And to think that they care about books. I kid I kid.
The exact address of the current Shakespeare and Company is 37 Rue de la Bucherie, 75005 Paris, France. And it is just a hop skip and a jump down to the Seine River from either of the front doors. Despite being (basically) in the exact middle of one of the most well known cities in Europe it is said to have a very relaxed atmosphere inside (Kirch, Claire. Publisher’s Weekly). The store is located in the fifth Arrondissement, of the overall 20 administrative districts (called Arrondissements) that Paris as a city is split into. The Latin Quarter (so named because historically speaking, though not so when thinking of it with a more modern perspective, it was the are where people spoke the most Latin, and was associated with higher learning) is also located in the same district. The Arrondissement is dominated by 15 universities, colleges, and prestigious high schools.
While these schools surround the local area and district, the student bodies do not make up the main population of residences. The rent to stay so close to their places of study (as well as being so close to the heart of Paris) is far too high for a student or sometimes their families to pay for. And as a result students who attend university in the Latin Quarter tend to be commuters. The main population is mostly made up of upper-middle class individuals who are usually not married. So we’re talking about single, well paid workers. With such an audience, Shakespeare and Company doesn’t have a large student audience when it comes to its sales. By in large, the store is selling, and catering to this much wealthier, more established population of permanent residence. The store and its staff do their best to keep the overall environment of the store as close to the warm, friendly, and close to its bohemian-roots despite this. The store holds workshops throughout the week, on its second floor, and guests work on topics ranging from the creation of the written word itself to giving feedback on already established books, trying to both learn from others as well as to give more depth and volume to their own critiquing voice.
Most of Shakespeare and Company’s customer base seems to fall within the classification of semi-serious book consumers. There don’t seem to be much of a focus (by the store) to appeal to a casual reader. Famous speakers, authors, performers (international and national) come to the store to give talks and sign books. Ernest Hemingway is among one of the better known guests to arrive at the store. Another guest of the store was South African political activist and writer Breyten Breytenbach, when he attended a festival hosted by the bookstore in 2010. To me, guest speakers like these tend to be more in the vein of what one would expect if you were trying to show your store as being more worldly and not just focused on the selling and discussion of books. Since students might not have the free time (either due to classes or homework) to come by the store when these speakers come, it seems to be that Shakespeare and Company hopes to bring intellectuals who’ve established their place in the community to show up (and eventually shop from) the store itself.
The population in the fifth Arrondissement has been in a rather steady decline from the late 1960s all the way up until the late 1990s. By the turn of the new millennia the overall population had begun to increase. The reason for this downturn and recent developments has not been chalked up to anything that would be causing a dramatic change, but rather brought in to line to be on par with the normal ebbs and flows of city population. It is possible to assume that due to its close proximity to internationally known tourist sights (as well as being close to the heart of the city itself) the fifth Arrondissement had made living their hard due to higher amounts of foot traffic, along with higher taxes (as one might encounter if he or she were living close to Times Square, or the White House here in the U.S.)
Though small in size, when compared to the larger city around it Shakespeare and Company, I think at least, does a fine job at continuing to be a presence in the bookstore community of Paris. True, it does seem to cater more to a well-established reading community more so than the beatnik community (for whom the store still seems to harbor good feelings towards, what with all the beds it keeps open). But it seems to me that if nothing else, the location of Shakespeare and Company is radically different than from where it started, for good or for ill.
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