Landmark Parisian Store Reopens in City Short of Tourists

La Samaritaine, the landmark Paris department store that dates to 1870, is reopening in a city bereft of tourists following a 16-year closure.

Luxury group LVMH, which owns the store, carried out a 750 million-euro ($894 million) renovation and originally intended to reopen last April, until the pandemic derailed those plans. French President Emmanuel Macron joined on Monday in inaugurating the revamped store, which opens to the public on Wednesday.

While Covid-19 is in retreat in France and the government has lifted most restrictions, the grand relaunch comes at a difficult moment for many retailers. In pre-pandemic times, the French capital received some 10 million tourists each summer, but may get only half that number this year, according to estimates from the Paris Tourism Office. Making matters worse, a shift to shopping online has accelerated during the health crisis.

Landmark Parisian Store Reopens in City Short of Tourists

“We expect it will take one or two years for tourists to really return,” Eleonore de Boysson, regional president for the unit that houses La Samaritaine, said at a press conference. In the meantime, “we want Parisians to reclaim La Samaritaine,” she said.

​​Nestled between the river Seine and the Rue de Rivoli on the right bank, La Samaritaine, known for its Art Deco and Art Nouveau details, spreads over some 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet). A wavy contemporary facade designed by the Japanese architectural firm SANAA surrounds the building.

The store will showcase established luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, as well as emerging designers such as Austria’s Petar Petrov. The beauty section will offer spa services at Cinq Mondes, where a one-hour session will start at 116 euros.

Landmark Parisian Store Reopens in City Short of Tourists

Visitors will be able to drink and dine at Voyage, a bar and restaurant on the top floor, where natural light enters through the main atrium. Menus will be created by chefs in residence. There will also be a Cheval Blanc hotel with 26 rooms and 46 suites, set to open Sept. 7, with prices starting at 1,150 euros a night.

​A daycare center, 15,000 square meters of office space and 96 social housing units also form part of the complex.

For luxury brands, restrictions on foreign visitors have had a more acute impact in Europe than in China and the U.S., where local customers picked up demand. Chinese visitors to Paris and other European destinations would sometimes buy large quantities of luxury products on behalf of others back at home, a practice known as daigou.

Landmark Parisian Store Reopens in City Short of Tourists

Revenue at LVMH’s selective retailing unit, which also includes the Le Bon Marche department store on Paris’s left bank, fell by almost a third last year, the biggest drop among all of the group’s divisions.

It’s “complex” to predict Samaritaine’s sales for next year, partly because consumers have “lost the habit” of shopping there during the years it’s been shut, LVMH Chief Financial Officer Jean-Jacques Guiony, who also heads La Samaritaine, said at the press conference.​ But Guiony says he’s confident the renovated store will eventually achieve the same sales per square meter as Le Bon Marche.

“It doesn’t seem crazy to be re-opening a department store right now, even though we’re in a lull,” said Selvane Mohandas du Menil, managing director at the International Association of Department Stores. “Paris isn’t giving up, quite the opposite.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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