Paris’s Champs-Elysées slowly reawaken, sadly empty of tourists

Translated by
Nicola Mira
May 12, 2020
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At 10 am on Monday, the world’s most beautiful avenue came awake again: after a two-month lockdown, the stores on the Champs-Elysées avenue in Paris reopened their doors, some with their customary queues outside, though the usual throngs of foreign tourists were sadly missing.

The Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Élysées, Paris, on Monday May 11 2020 - La boutique Louis Vuitton des Champs-Élysées lundi 11 mai 2020 / AFP

“I had a last-minute present to make. And it’s also a treat for myself after 53 days at home, I took a day off,” Perrine Bourgeois told the AFP agency as she waited for the Louis Vuitton store at 101 Champs-Elysées to open. Bourgeois, a young woman working in HR, wore a sky-blue face mask, a floral silk scarf draped around her neck. She said the lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic has made her “think about life’s essentials, about the goods we consume, and above all their provenance. But this doesn’t mean we should stop shopping, especially for these icons of French-style luxury.”

Claudine and David Herbault were also patiently waiting outside Louis Vuitton, the LVMH group’s leading label. They made the trip from Nemours, north-east of Paris: “It's our daughter's 20th birthday and we want to give her a very special present. We tried to order online but it was tricky. Our budget is around €300, we’d like to buy her a scarf or a belt.”

Along the majestic Champs-Elysées avenue - a globally recognised symbol of France, hugely popular with tourists - rain showers had been replaced by unpleasant gusts of wind. Shoppers were still relatively sparse, and there were queues only outside the FNAC store and some of the luxury boutiques. “Half of the shops are reopening today, and by next Monday almost all retailers will have opened, but not cafés and hotels,” said Edouard Lefebvre, delegate general of the Champs-Elysées committee, the association of the one hundred or so chains and retailers that operate on the avenue. “Recovery will be very slow,” he added, saying that “one third of the Champs-Elysées’s footfall consists of tourists, who will come back, but not immediately.”

The Guerlain perfumery is open again, and Françoise Falck, who lives locally, was replenishing her stock: “I’ve run out of Cologne Impériale, after seeing the perfume dwindle down to nothing in two months. I know this may seem ridiculous, when the priority is three square meals a day.”

“It’s the new normal”

“I missed browsing for products, touching and testing them,” said Abby Hsieh, a Taiwanese student who has been living in Paris for three years. Stringent health measures are in place in all the stores: “Products can only be handled by shop assistants. This doesn’t disturb us, it's the new normal. The epidemic is still raging, many have died, we must take precautions,” said two friends outside Sephora. The beauty retailer has decided to stop using make-up testers and said that those for perfumes and skincare products are “constantly being disinfected.”

Hand-sanitising gel is mandatory everywhere, and so are Plexiglas screens at checkouts and limits to the number of customers allowed in at any one time. Some brands have also decided to make customers, and not just their staff, wear masks.

At Zara, trying on clothes is forbidden: “customers can try on the garments at home and return them if they don’t fit, by keeping the sales receipt,” said a shop assistant. At Dior, customers can try on shoes “wearing disposable socks,” and accessories that have been handled by customers are cleaned “with sanitizing tissues where the material allows it.” Clothes that have been tried on in fitting rooms undergo “a 48-hour quarantine” before being available again in-store.

In general, “any garment that has been tried on will be set aside and steam-sanitized,” said Lefebvre of the Champs-Elysées committee. Champs-Elysées stores have done no business for two months, and Lefebvre said he is concerned about the impact: “the lockdown period has put a freeze on everything, revenues are slumping. Not to mention that, between last December's transport strikes and the ‘yellow vest’ [demonstrations], Champs-Elysées retailers have been struggling for two years.”

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