In the shadow of the Notre Dame, in a small storefront on a cobblestone street, is Shakespeare and Company, long a bibliophile’s dream in the center of Paris. Its exterior, a coupling of green-and-yellow paint alongside fanciful thin lettering, is a striking introduction into a world that seems ever more rooted the past. Inside, English-language books stretch further back than you would imagine from the street. Pull a title of non-fiction or fantasy from the shelves, or pick up a new read from the tables that crowd the already intimate space. News clippings line the stairs leading to the second floor—another reminder of a slowly disappearing world. Buy a book and get it stamped by the bookstore’s famed logo, or simply spend a few quiet minutes rereading lines from a familiar story.
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The Bard's Bookstore
Located at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, a stone's throw from the Seine, and draped in a long-cast shadow of Notre Dame, is what should be proclaimed one of France's national treasures: the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This is actually the second site of the original store, which was closed in June of 1940 due to German occupation during the second world war. The location pictured here was opened in 1951 under the name of Le Mistral, but was later changed in honor of the original store that was shuttered years prior. Walk through the green double doors and you will find a world steeped in history and literary greatness. It's sometimes hard to even move around due to the endless stacks of books and shelves teeming with manuscripts that were banged out on ancient typewriters, or possibly carved on clay tablets. The smell of aged parchment wafts through the air, and that fragrance alone makes one reminiscent of a bygone era. My weathered copy of A Moveable Feast was picked up at this very spot, in honor of Hemingway, a frequent visitor of the original shop. Pop in for a minute or stay for hours, Shakespeare welcomes your company.
Turn left onto rue St-Julien-le-Pauve, and then immediately turn right onto the narrow rue de la Bûcherie. This is where the modern incarnation of Shakespeare & Company, one of the world's great bookshops, is located today (when Helena visited the shop in 1925 it was located on the rue de l’Odéon). Shakespeare & Company not only has the best selection of English-language books in Paris, but it also has a lively social calendar and a delightful café, only recently opened, in the building next door. The shop's proprietor, Sylvia Whitman, is named for Sylvia Beach, who founded the first Shakespeare & Company nearly a century ago, and who makes a brief appearance in Moonlight Over Paris.
What traveller or aspiring travel writer has ever been to Paris and NOT stopped by George Whitman's Shakesepeare & Company, located just a stone's throw (if you have a good arm!) from the Notre Dame Cathedral?
I cannot count the amount of times I have been there over the years. The place is like a magnet, a friendly familiar place that I first visited back in the early 1980s. I always buy at least one book when I visit, and at crazy times too many to carry around the city.
This photo was taken this past spring. I was in Paris this past weekend too but I must confess that I didn't make it to the bookstore this time, but could see it in the distance from Ile de France.
Who remembers actually composing prose, letters or even grocery lists on a typewriter?
Silvia Beach opened the original Shakespeare and Company in 1919. Forced to close during the German Occupation of Paris in WWII because she refused to sell books to a German officer, the bookstore was reborn in August of 1951 when George Whitman decided to turn his collection of books into a library and then store.
The employees are ex pats that work in the bookstore by day because they sleep under its roof by night. All artists looking for a place to tuck in, while following their dreams in the City of Light.
The history and the spirit of this bookshop brings you in, but the tiled floors, wishing well, hidden nooks and poetry readings keep you coming back for more.
It was Sylvia Beach that risked everything and published James Joyce's Ulysses, so it is no surprise that there's an annual Bloomsday celebration here at Shakespeare and Company.
In the spirit of all things literary, make sure you visit this exceptional bookstore next to Notre Dame on your next visit to Paris. Make Walt Whitman's ghost proud by honoring his late son's institution to all things creative.
Some places always draw you back to them. For many its Paris and for me its Shakespeare & Company bookstore in particular.
I first walked through the doors of George Whitman's "wonderland of books" (Henry Miller) some 30 years ago and there haven't been too many years where I haven't been back, older and (hopefully) wiser.
George is gone now but the bookstore and its history still remain. Best of all it is still run and owned by a Whitman - his daughter Sylvia.