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Les Grands Magasins (“the big/grand department stores”) of Paris really deserve a post.  They are retailers who want to sell luxury but cannot ignore the mass-market, and they want to be chic and at the same time appeal to tourists.

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Two of the “grand department stores”  Magasin du Printemps and Galeries Lafayette stand right next to each other on Boulevard Haussmann. They are the flagship stores of the groups that have numerous branches throughout France.

Competing for the hard-earned cash of discerning customers in the capital requires a spectacle.

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Founded in 1895, Galeries Lafayette grew rapidly and now occupies several buildings. It has a 4-storey, circular belle-epoch atrium which was constructed in the 1910-20’s with a glass and steel dome.

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A Galeries Lafayette branch opened in Trump Tower in New York City in September 1991. It was not quite successful, and closed after three years. If I remember correctly, it occupied what is now a part of Nike Town.

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Wandering next door to Printemps, I found the main restaurant, Brasserie Printemps, under a beautiful cupola built in 1923. There, I rested my tired tourist’s feet and had an afternoon coffee and sweet snack.

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The space was surprisingly tranquil despite every floor of the store was packed with shoppers.  I believe Printemps beat Galeries Lafayette with this vast beautiful space for drinks and snacks. Apparently, the cupola was dismantled during World War II for fear of damage by bombs and it was re-assembled in the 1970’s.

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Founded in 1865 by an employee of Le Bon Marche, Le Printemps has recently been acquired by a Qatari company much to the dismay of the French labor unions.

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MW and IT (our travel companion) were more interested in Le Bon Marché on the left bank.  Founded in 1838 as a small store, it is one of the earliest department store in the world. Now it is owned by the LVMH group.

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The claim to fame of the Bon Marche building is the architect who built it – Gustave Eiffel, who also designed the Eiffel Tower. Does it look like the metal used on the Eiffel Tower which has the same old gold (or greyish yellow) color seen here on the elevators and the ceiling? It is probably not a coincidence that the color scheme (old gold + pale light green) was also used in many of the Louis Vuitton stores in the 2000’s.

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Le Bon Marche, judging by its merchandise, feels like the Saks on Fifth in NYC.

grands magasins-12Well,  I bet they all stock more or less the same brands. But it is that small percentage of exclusives and the store ambiance which make shopping fun.

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