Three weeks before Christmas, Pariss landmark department stores are virtually empty of shoppers as a result of the ongoing transport strike. Shopkeepers are worried for their future if it continues.
December is the most important month for shopkeepers, but Paris shops had a distinct lack of customers for the first Saturday of the month.
Landmark department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, had few customers on Saturday, December 7. Three Saturdays before Christmas, it was also day three of a transport strike protesting the governments proposed pension reform.
This strike has paralysed much of Paris and has been termed unlimited, which means there is no set finish date. There are genuine fears are that it could last at least another week; some are even predicting it might continue until Christmas.
There were some cars on Boulevard Haussmann and on other main streets, but the pavements were noticeably thin on pedestrians. There was a distinct absence of crowds in the traditional build-up to Christmas that many shops depend on. Few were stopping to admire the Christmas windows.
'We're fearing for our survival': Independent shops at risk
If the big department stores are worrying about their revenues, small independent shops are worrying about their actual survival.
“Were fearing for our survival,” stated the union representing independent shopkeepers in a letter published in Le Parisien this week, imploring shoppers not to let the transport strike stand in their way and to shop in this month crucial to shopkeepers.
“For more than a year, there have been protests every Saturday by Yellow Vests, lawyers, police officers, nurses… and our clients have turned on their heels.”
“In Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Rouen, many of us saw our turnover drop. Some of us are drowning in bank charges, struggling to repay loans and have even closed down shops,” the union wrote.
Shops are the hearts of cities, they appealed, but customers are the heart of merchants. Without customers pushing through the door, they will have to shut and cities will die.
Department stores take huge hit
“The number of shoppers is much lower than usual,” confirmed Estelle, working on a handbag counter in Galeries Lafayette. “Everyone is very worried. We dont know how long this strike will go on, it could last for weeks. And this is a very important time of year for us, we rely on it.”
“There are significantly less people than a normal Saturday, let alone a Saturday three weeks before Christmas,” said Akan, working in the Acne clothes outlet in Galeries Lafayette. “There are still some tourists, but there seem to be very few locals.”
These shops have taken a huge hit today and will continue to with each new day of the strike.
“The numbers are certainly down because of the strike,” said a woman working at a make-up stand in Printemps, who did not wish to be named. “Normally at this time on any Saturday during the year we would be packed. Now its the run up to Christmas and there are really so few people, its very troubling. I dont know what we will do if it continues.”
Tourists noticed the difference, too.
“We cant believe how empty the shops are. All the Christmas decorations are up, but otherwise youd think it was in the middle of a hot summers day,” said John and Elaine, tourists visiting from New York.
“We arrived on Wednesday and we didnt know about the strike. Our hotel is in the centre, so we can get to many places by foot and taxi. But this is our first time in Paris and we would have loved to see Versailles.”
A tough year
It has been a hard 12 months for Paris shopkeepers.