The selling of books along the Seine is a tradition stretching back as far as the 16th century. But it was not until 1891 that the book stalls along the banks of the river were officially recognised – and not until 1900 that the signature ‘wagon green’ colour became mandatory.
Bouquinistes now line a 3km stretch through the centre of Paris, operating 900 wooden stalls from which they sell their wares – some 300,000 books, stamps, cards and posters in total.
The Seine has been described as the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves – although the literary set-up has inspired similar projects in places such as Ottawa and Tokyo.
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While they do not have to pay tax or rent, the sellers, each of whom can run a maximum of four stalls in total, have been badly hit by the pandemic. Social distancing, lockdowns and a lack of tourists has had a drastic impact on their revenue.
In an online petition Jérôme Callais, President of the Cultural Association of Bouquinistes pleaded: “Book lovers, from Paris and elsewhere, please stroll! Stroll as soon as health conditions allow it!
“Walk along the banks of the Seine and stop of a moment to look at these green boxes – veritable displays of civilisation. Let yourself be seduced by the warm call of the thousands of books that they contain.”
As beautiful as this call to action was, it was not enough to save certain bouquinistes, even as Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. The good news is that the City of Paris is now accepting applications to fill these vacancies, so this is your chance to join a centuries old trade.
What you need to do
An application pack must be sent by email or by post to the addresses listed on the City of Paris website, where you will also find more detailed guidance on the kind of documentation you need.
You will need to send: a CV and covering letter; ID photos; proof of address; proof of social security registration; copies of an ID document or birth certificate; and proof of a clean criminal record.
Although successful candidates must be official residents of France and registered in the health and social security system there is no requirements to be a French citizen, although obviously speaking French is pretty necessary.
Applications must be received before March 2022 when the selection committee will meet to decide on the winners. Those who bid successfully will then be allocated five-year plots by the City.
What if you succeed?
If you win the bid, there are fairly tight regulations that you will have to follow – the licences can be easily revoked for breaching the rules.
There are strict restrictions on the size of the plot, sellers must be present at least four days per week, and are required to register their company and take out insurance. Bouquinistes must also register the name of any employees or friends/family that will help out with the running of the stalls.
Selling second-hand books along the river will not lead you to riches. But the bouquinistes are in it for the lifestyle. In an interview with Le Parisien, Callais once said: “Liberty is our main salary”.