The original Shakespeare & Co, run by Sylvia Beach and beloved of Hemingway and his ilk, closed in the 1940s during the occupation of Paris (the site at 12 Rue de l’Odéon bears a plaque). In 1951, wandering spirit George Whitman opened Le Mistral at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, re-naming it in 1964 in homage to Beach’s legacy (he also named his daughter after her). But the back history hardly matters now – George, who passed away in 2011 aged 98, turned the shop into something entirely unique and magical.
A gathering place, source of inspiration and often a bed for beat generation bohemians, writers, travellers and readers for over 60 years, Shakespeare & Company has hosted thousands of ‘tumbleweeds’ – volunteer helpers who sleep in the shop – and featured in numerous films, books and memoirs. The sprawling site includes a large used and antiquarian section, while the main store is a heavenly labyrinth of book-lined passages, alcoves and reading rooms full of secret corners, an unmissable destination for bibliophiles the world over. Sylvia Whitman now runs the store with as much charm as – if less eccentricity than – her father, launching an biennial literary festival and maintaining a strong focus on events and readings.