Tradition is nice, especially when it can stand its ground against modern media. One can still find them even today, the traditional booksellers along the Seine in Paris.
These outdoor booksellers along the Seine hold a permanent place in the cityscape of Paris. For over 350 years they have been characteristic for the city and the book boxes are now an UNESCO World Heritage Site just like the Seine embankment is.
The first stalls appeared at the Seine embankment in the 16th century. Back then, the travelling booksellers were not allowed to leave their book boxes there overnight. They were given permission to leave them out in or around 1816.
From around 1856 the vendors got permits for selling their goods at fixed spots along the river. They were given the option to purchase a permit for one year which entitled them to occupy a stretch of ten metres along the Seine. They were allowed to sell books from sunrise to sunset. During the World Exhibition in 1900, there were already 200 booksellers present.
At the beginning of 1930, the city of Paris reduced the area per seller to 8 meters but the opening hours remained the same until today.
Extra regulations regarding the book boxes were passed in 1993. Those are not allowed to be more than 2 meters long and more than 75 cm wide. When the box is open, the top edge is not allowed to be taller than 2.1 meters. There are also regulations for closed boxes.
The bookseller locations at the Seine
The first bookselling locations were on the Pont Neuf. Today, the green boxes of the booksellers line the northern Seine embankment all the way from Quai du Louvre to Quai de la Mégisserie. On the southern embankment, stalls stretch from Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. Around 217 outside booksellers sell their goods here in around 900 little, green stalls.
There are no exact opening hours for the Bouquinistes of Paris. Many of them don’t operate their stalls as a full-time occupation. That is why most of them only open in the afternoon. On weekends or during peak season many stalls are open daily. In bad weather or in the winter months the stalls remain closed sometimes.
What do the Bouquinistes of Paris sell?
We were lucky and saw some of the stalls open during our walk along the Seine. What they offer is reasonably similar at every stall. At almost every one of them, souvenirs for tourists are sold. There is everything from carrier bags to miniature Eiffel Towers.
But the focus still is on the books. There are old and new books everywhere you look (in French of cause), magazines and comic books. A closer look also reveals stamps, old advertisement posters and prints by famous artists. It is estimated that about 800.000 products are sold on the embankments of the Seine. So both finding something particular or waiting for that one lucky find might take quite some time and some fine-combing of every stall’s products.