A place to browse and mingle as much as actually to buy something

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The Independent Online

Fnac, as any French shopper will tell you, is more than just a shop. Founded in 1954 as a consumer-friendly photography store, it has grown into an upmarket cultural supermarket offering everything you would find in Waterstone's, HMV, Jessops and PC World – under one roof.

But that's not all. Whether you want your photos developed or tickets to the theatre, Fnac is the place to go. It has become a culture club; the larger stores host free performances by musicians and talks by film directors, actors and authors. Shoppers are free to come and spend hours flicking through books and illustrated comics. On a typical Saturday, your way to the bookshelves is barred by youths engrossed in Asterix or the latest Manga offering. Occasionally, the store puts up a light-hearted notice suggesting customers might buy something once in a while. The relaxed atmosphere is reflected by its staff, most of whom are young and casually dressed and have a reputation for being well-informed and helpful.

Fnac's mission to help shoppers, rather than just sell them things, has weakened as it has become a more commercially-minded enterprise. Since 1994 Fnac has been owned by PPR, the principal company of the self-made billionaire François Pinault, who also controls the Gucci and Yves Saint-Laurent fashion brands.