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Paris’s most famous bookshop needs your help to stay open

Shakespeare and Company has asked the public to put in online orders – or become a ‘friend’ – to help keep it afloat

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

It’s difficult to imagine Paris without Shakespeare and Company. Just across from Notre-Dame, in the bustling heart of the Latin Quarter, this Left Bank bookstore is a proper Paris institution. Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and James Joyce all made it an intellectual refuge of sorts after the business was founded in 1919, and James Baldwin and Allen Ginsberg were among the frequent patrons of its current incarnation, open since 1951. It’s also well known for inviting young writers to sleep for free among the shelves, in return for helping out around the place or giving readings.

But now, just over a century since it first opened, Shakespeare & Co says it is at risk of closing. Sales have fallen nearly 80 percent since March. In a statement released last month, the current owners said: ‘Like many independent businesses, we are struggling, trying to see a way forward during this time when we’ve been operating at a loss.’

Almost all bookshops in France were forced to close as part of a new nationwide lockdown. So, to ensure it survives the coming months, Shakespeare & Co has made a public appeal for help. The request is simple: it’s urging people to order books from its online shop, stocked largely with English-language books, and a particularly strong art and photography collection. Plus, if Paris is your soul city (or you’ve just been heavily inspired by ‘Emily in Paris’), Shakespeare & Co also has arguably the best selection of English-language books about the City of Light in the whole world.

You can order from anywhere in the world, and the shop even offers customisations like a free Shakespeare & Co stamp, or a typewritten poem for an extra €1.

For those who want to really help out, the shop has also set up a membership programme, starting at €45. This gets supporters four quarterly instalments of ‘original content’, including a mix of audio, video and new writing – along with the owners’ ‘eternal gratitude’.

It would be a tragedy for such an iconic independent business to go under. So if you’re looking for gifts for a friend, a relative or yourself – or simply want to help out a shop that’s very much in need – then make Shakespeare & Co your destination.

Dreaming of Paris? These amazing colour photos from the 1960s will whisk you there right away.

And here are some of the best songs about Paris.

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