Sun, Jan 19, 2020 - Page 5 News List

Rent forces LGBT bookshop out of Paris neighborhood

The Guardian

The Saint-Jacques Tower stands amid buildings in the Marais district in Paris on Feb. 27 last year.

Photo: AFP

In the window of France’s best-known gay bookshop, above the display of Lucian Freud art books, opera singer Maria Callas’ memoirs and a history of the pride movement, a poster warned in giant red letters: “Cultural heritage in danger.”

An urgent note on the door added: “We need your help!”

Les Mots a La Bouche, a 40-year-old Paris institution, is the top LGBT bookshop in France and considered one of the best in the world — a focal point of Paris’ historic gay neighborhood in the Marais district.

However, as property speculation in central Paris reaches dizzying heights — it is estimated that at certain times of year there are more Airbnb rentals than residents in the Marais — the bookshop is being forced out by rising rents.

Its departure is a blow to Paris’ gay community as advocates warn that central Paris is destroying its cultural identity by allowing luxury fashion shops aimed at rich tourists to force out local businesses, including gay bars.

As the local cabaret star, Yvette Leglaire, said: “The gay Marais is dying.”

The Paris tourist board still promotes the Marais as “an authentic yet trendy little village,” but its gay scene, which began in the 1980s when the area was still working-class, shabby and cheap, is slowly being eroded.

Several historic gay bars have closed in the past few years as fashion labels from Lacoste to Chanel move in.

The Marais’ Jewish area, situated around Rue des Rosiers, is not immune, with commercial rents doubling between 2012 and 2018.

There are fears that, as with Barcelona or Venice, property speculation and commercial pursuit of profit from tourism will strip central Paris of its originality and local appeal.

One long-term resident said that the onslaught of luxury fashion brands is turning the Marais into “a giant, open-air duty-free shop.”

Sebastien Grisez, manager at Les Mots a La Bouche, said: “Paris City Hall promotes the gay history of the Marais and it has painted the crossroads here in rainbow colors, but no longer having our bookshop here seems absurd.”

The shop, which has been in the Marais since 1983, is open seven days a week until 11pm and stocks more than 16,000 titles.

However, like many historic gay bars that closed under pressure from rising rents, the shop has been given until March to find a new location elsewhere in Paris.

There are rumors that a Doc Marten shoe shop will take its place.

“Ten years ago, there were far more gay bars here, now only a few are left. It’s true that gay sociology is changing — people are more spread out, there is perhaps less need to meet in bars when you can meet on apps. But even so, people regret that this neighborhood meeting point is disappearing,” Grisez said.

Alain Lesturgez, who works for the forestry federation, has been coming to the bookshop for 20 years.

“This move would be the end of an era. It’s a place where a bookseller would take time to advise you. Once, the Marais had a lot of life, but now the luxury shops make it look the same as many other places in the world,” he said.

At the Open Bar, a historic gay venue set up by rights activist Sebastien Fossa, the manager, said: “The neighborhood is increasingly losing its soul. It started out as a working-class neighborhood. Gradually, the arrival of luxury brands has broken the dynamic here.”

Faycal Khiatine, who runs nearby gay bar Cox, said: “When a bookshop leaves, it’s daily neighborhood life that will lose out.””

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