Is there anything more Parisian to do on a Sunday afternoon than to stroll along the banks of the Seine and peruse the antique and varied wares of the Paris bouquinistes? Well, if there is, then please can someone let me know! – especially if it’s to suggest visiting a fairytale castle!
Due to the abundance of green stalls lining both banks of the Seine, it’s often said that the well-known river “runs between two bookshelves“. So iconic is this scene, that in 1991, the Paris bouquinistes were made a UNESCO world heritage site.
Wandering along the river, it would seem that the Paris bouquinistes have been there forever. Their little green façades weathered with time, their books yellowed with age. Obviously, this isn’t actually the case!
A brief history of the Paris bouquinistes
So when exactly did these shops first appear? Well, the vendors have been selling their wares along the banks of the Seine since at least the mid-1500s. This time frame is within a hundred years of the oldest house still standing in Paris.
Although no one is quite sure where the term ‘bouquiniste’ comes from, it’s widely believed to have derived from the German ‘buch’ (book) or the Dutch ‘boeckin‘ (small book).
Today, there are over 900 green boxes and 240 vendors. Bouquinistes have also been implemented in other French cities such as Lyon. Sound like your kind of job? Well, if you want to become a Paris bouquiniste vendor, then you’ll have a while to wait. The waiting list in eight years long!
Requirements for running one of the ‘Paris bouquinistes’ along the banks of the Seine
Of course, you can’t just turn up, install a stall along the banks of the Seine and start selling your wares. Because the Bouquinistes are highly regulated, if you want to sell vintage books, posters, and the likes along the banks of the River Seine, then you must be granted a license by the city of Paris to sell wares.
Under these conditions, your Bouquiniste stall must be open at least four days a week. If you’re wondering why all of the boxes are the same shade of green (similar, in fact, to that of the Wallace Fountains), then it’s actually because Bouquiniste boxes must conform to a certain size and standard. They must be painted in the uniform green colour.
Hours vary from stall to stall but can be between 11:30 A.M. and Sunset. Paris is a pretty polluted city (even since the quays of the Seine have been closed to motorised vehicles) and so the boxes need maintenance and repainting every few years. Those in charge of the Bouquiniste box (i.e. the vendor) must pay maintenance cost for the little green boxes.
Last but not least, Bouquiniste vendors have to pay rent of around €100 a year, which goes directly to the city. In order to maintain their ‘authenticity,’ vendors are only allowed to have one box of ‘souvenir’ goods (i.e. Eiffel Tower keyrings and the like).