Window-Shopping With Warm Feet

Downtown Alternative to a Mall - the Passage Jouffroy

Paris:- Friday, 8. November 1996:- The Christmas toy brochures are starting to fill up my mailbox. It's not only a case of, 'you've seen one, you've seen them all,' but they also seem to be identical to last year's. I suspect - although I can't know for certain - that there is not much difference between the ones I get here and the ones you get in Kansas City or Tokyo or Manila or Milan.

Max said, "I want this one and this one and this one." I asked him to pick just one to see what would happen, and he happily picked just one. I can't tell whether he could have done it with his eyes closed and been just as satisfied with the choice.

Even in Paris, if you do your shopping at any of the big department stores, or in the case of toys, in any of the big toy shops - you have a considerable choice within a store, but all the stores have the same globally-marketed stuff; so that leaves you to choose to look for lower prices, or more convenience - but not for a greater variety of items.

entry

In Paris, so big, so vast, there is choice; there are alternatives. Somewhere, somebody has found a niche, a little 'hole' in the market - a national or regional supplier, or even some artisanal producer. They in turn have found small shops, where the owner is the director of purchasing, responsible for decisions on what to put on the shelves. These people, both producers and buyers, have to depend on ingenuity rather than in-depth marketing studies and banks of hired toy-testers and user-analysts.

I have already written 'niche' and 'hole in the market,' leading up to shops themselves that are sort of in 'niches' or 'holes' in the city's landscape - the old idea of the 'passages,' which are expressed in modern times, as malls.

The essential difference between the two is that malls generally have shops that are branch outlets of downtown - or even international chain - stores. 'Passages' were the last century's downtown version of malls - undercover shopping areas for city pedestrians. The passages are compact because they were also a result of real-estate speculation - a means to squeeze more shop-fronts into expensive downtown spaces.

In Paris, the passages and their individual shops, came into being some time before the concept of department stores. It started with a cousin of Louis XVI, Philippe d'Orléans, who needed some cash to finance his particular life-style, so he subdivided the garden of the Palais-Royal into 60 'pavillons,' each with three arches of the arcade. Les Arcades de Pierre and the Galeries de Bois opened in 1786 to a huge success and refocused the life of the city. It closed in 1828.

At the time, before the Haussemannian transformations, the glass-roofed passages also presented the advantages of being free of street mud and dangerous and chaotic traffic in the narrow streets. After Haussmann, there were wide boulevards - and many new parks to stroll in - and the passages went into decline; just as the department stores began to appear.

The Passage Jouffroy opened in February of 1847, at its present location between 10. boulevard Montmartre and 9. rue de la Grange-Batalière. Aside from its brilliant location on the boulevard, it was the first heated passage and was much appreciated in winter.

Another thing about the Jouffroy: the terms of the leases prevent the duplication of boutiques with the same lines of goods - so this is one of the few passages that hasen't been invaded by restaurants: there is the Le Royal at the entry and there is a tea salon further along inside.

Just inside the entry, just after Le Royal café, is the Boutique des Tuniques, which has been here since 1903. This has blouses, shirts, robes, kimonos, scarves; a number of which are exclusive. On the right there is the Segas shop, which has canes, both new and antique, with prices up to 50,000 francs.

Segas moose & canes

Beside Segas, there is Thomas Boog, which features unusual objects of decoration for the home, from all parts of the world. This shop has its original turn-of-the-century decor.

On the left-hand side, are three shops with toys; two branches of Pain d'Epices and the older Boîte à Joujoux, which has chess sets costing upwards of 4,000 francs. This shop was installed here in 1930.

The two-star Hôtel Chopin is at the right, just where the passage shifts left to the narrower 'attic of books' which is the Grange-Batalière section. This section has Cinédoc, which specializes in books about movies, stars, movie posters - one of which is valued at 18,000 francs. Each of Cinédoc's seven windows has a theme.

Biot Artisanat has miniature animals for collectors, in porcelain and metal and has the Paris exclusive for Bossons figures.

The Grenier à Livres has been here for a century, and it is the one with the 'attic of books' in the passage - which allows inspection of books by the hour. There is an interior shop which has books for collectors, used books, out-of-stock books and even new books.

passage & books

In all there are 32 establishments in the Passage Jouffroy. There is also an entry to the Musée Grévin, inaugurated in 1882, which has its principal entry on the boulevard, in the right-hand wing of the one-time Grand Hôtel de la Terrace Jouffroy, built in 1847; now called Hôtel Ronceray.

Earlier this week I saw my first afternoon movie in more than ten years. If the film had not been written for 12-year olds, I might have actually enjoyed it. Spending 90 minutes, plus the obligatory extra 20 minutes for the commercials, is something I always keep in mind - especially when I consider that I could have spent the time much more profitably and amusingly in the Passage Jouffroy.

Besides not being able to afford one of Segas' canes, I think it could be dangerous to have one while doing my Paris tours. You know how you sometimes feel tempted to whack one of these two-ton cars when it nearly runs you over in a crosswalk? Whacking cars with canes is illegal in Paris. If you stay in the passages, this problem does not arise.

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