Another Paris landmark is no more. Brentano’s, an American bookshop whose customers have ranged from Ernest Hemingway to Johnny Hallyday, has been forced to close by exploding rental demands.
After 114 years, the bookshop’s prime site on the Avenue de L’Opéra, close to the Louvre, is expected to become, like much of the rest of the avenue, a designer label shop catering for the Japanese tourist trade.
Although regarded by the English-speaking community as a Paris institution, Brentano’s has been undermined by the recession, by the internet and, above all, by soaring commercial rents in the heart of Paris. Its landlord, the bank BNP Paribas, increased the rent several years ago from Euros 75,000 a year to Euros 200,000.
Brentano’s, founded in 1895 and originally part of an US-based chain of the same name, was once a centre of American cultural life in the French capital. "The avenue de L’Opera used to be American. It has become Japanese," said Chantal Bodez, last owner of the shop with her husband.
In the 1950s, the science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, turned up at Brentano’s, unannounced, wearing shorts in the midst of winter. He offered to sign his own books. A queue soon stretched into the avenue.
Mr Bradbury’s most celebrated work is about a world without books. Now aged 88, he will doubtless be glad to know that there are still other English language bookshops in Paris, including a thriving, 106 years old branch of WH Smith.
The loss of Brentano’s is, nonetheless, part of a gradual erosion of commercial quirkiness and character from the centre of the French capital.
It was confirmed last week that Samaritaine, the sprawling department store closed down for safety reasons four years ago, would never reopen as a single shop. After a long legal battle, the luxury goods company Louis-Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy has been given permission to convert the protected, art-nouveau Samaritaine site beside the river Seine into a luxury hotel, council flats and designer fashion shops for the Japanese tourist trade.