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The pandemic situation has put many book stores under stress but bibliophiles around the world sat up when the famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company sent out an appeal recently for buyers to pitch in with orders as it is facing a dire financial crunch.
According to a post by the bookstore, its sales have declined by early 80 per cent since March this year.
The English-language bookshop in the heart of Paris, on the banks of the Seine, is located opposite Notre-Dame.
The shop in its present avatar was founded by American George Whitman at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, Kilometer Zero, the point at which all French roads begin.
The store is housed in an early 17th century building which was originally a monastery, La Maison du Mustier.
When the store first opened, it was called Le Mistral. Whitman changed to its present name in April 1964 (the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare) and in honour of Sylvia Beach, who founded the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919.
Some of the well-known visitors to the bookstore include Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, William Styron, Julio Cortázar, Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Lawrence Durrell, James Jones, and James Baldwin and others.
According to the company website, from the first day the store opened, writers, artists, and intellectuals were invited to sleep among the shop’s shelves and piles of books, on small beds that doubled as benches during the day. Called Tumbleweeds, they had to fulfil three criteria – read a book a day, help at the store for a few hours and produce a one page autobiography
“Since then, an estimated 30,000 young and young-at-heart writers and artists have stayed in the bookshop, including then unknowns such as Alan Sillitoe, Robert Stone, Kate Grenville, Sebastian Barry, Ethan Hawke, Jeet Thayil, Darren Aronfsky, Geoffrey Rush, and David Rakoff,” the website writes.
Now the bookstore is managed by Whitman’s daughter Sylvia Whitman, and was known for its open-air book readings and literary festivals in the pre-pandemic days.
If the pandemic situation and decline in sales were not enough, the shop fears further stress with the likely imposition of a four-week national lockdown in France with a surge in COVID-19 cases. From their experience of the first lockdown, the store has decided to shore up its online business.
A latest message on the website sounds a tad hopeful. It reads – 'Over the past days there has been huge support for the bookshop and we are deeply grateful'.
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