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Paris Neighborhood Stores Thrive

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Paris Neighborhood Stores Thrive


Paris Neighborhood Stores Thrive

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Okay, retail giants like Wal-Mart and Costco may have put many of America's small shopkeepers out of business, forced others to adapt. But in France, small neighborhood stores thrive. Paris has a big culture of small businesses, and as Eleanor Beardsley reports, it is not by accident.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Le Cochon Rose has stood on the same busy corner in Paris' 15th Arrondissement since 1905. It is a charcuterie, or butcher shop, specializing in pork. Big white letters on its awning proclaims Le Cochon Rose headcheese champion of France. What is headcheese?

Back in the kitchen, charcutier Dominique Bignon is preparing headcheese, which he describes as tongue and other parts of the pig's head cooked down in a white wine in shallot sauce. As he cuts a slice from a cold gelatinous loaf, Bignon explains why specialty shops like his still do well in a world of supermarkets.

Mr. DOMINIQUE BIGNON (Butcher): (Through translator) It's not easy and we have to be vigilant because we are a little more expensive, so we have to have excellent quality to keep our customers happy and coming back, so we never scrimp on quality.

BEARDSLEY: On the same street are other butchers, cheese shops, florists, bakers and cafes, all doing a brisk business. Le petite commerce, or small neighborhood stores, are important to Parisians and play an integral part in the life of the city. While I talk with a green grocer, someone taps me on the shoulder.

Ah, merci beaucoup, Monsieur, (French spoken), merci.

The charcutier came out of his butcher shop and handed me a bag. I think it's the headcheese that I was so interested in. So I'm going to go home, I guess, and have headcheese for lunch.

There's a reason why small businesses are thriving in Paris, says Patrice Vermiland(ph), who is in charge of economic development for the city.

Mr. PATRICE VERMILAND: (Through translator) One of main goals of the city of Paris is to keep the huge supermarkets out because they are the main competition for small businesses. So there aren't really any in Paris. This is not just by chance. We accept medium-sized supermarkets, but we systematically refuse the huge retailers.

BEARDSLEY: Vermiland says Parisians are wholeheartedly behind such policies, but even so, some neighborhoods have seen trouble recently.

In the 11th Arrondissement, traditional shops and restaurants have been replaced by dozens of Chinese wholesalers. As the sound of their delivery trucks replaces the hum of daily life, groups of concerned citizens have banded together to stop this neighborhood from becoming a wholesale district, and the city has formed a community development agency to promote economic diversity.

The half-public, half-private agency purchases shops in at-risk neighborhoods and leases them to community businesses at reduced rates. Jean and Isabel Rebaro(ph) opened their boulangerie in the 15th Arrondissement a year ago, replacing a bakery that had closed. As the ovens hum away, customers line up for the popular baguette. Rebaro explains how they manage to do well despite the fact that there are at least 12 bakeries within a mile radius.

Mr. JOHN REBARO (Bakery Owner): (Through translation) We work with old bread making methods to make a traditional baguette from a soft dough that we let sit for a long time. This gives it taste. And we bake all day long so it's fresh.

BEARDSLEY: At the brasserie next door, Delfin and Evon Caldonar(ph) and a group of friends are waiting for a lunch table. They say they come here several times a week.

Mr. DELFIN CALDONAR (Parisian): (Through translation) It's great French cooking here, prepared with care and served up in a place with a convivial atmosphere. It's important to take the time to relax and sit with friends and it's necessary if you plan on working hard the rest of the day.

BEARDSLEY: Shopkeepers and residents here say the neighborhood is thriving because there are some supermarkets to sell the things the small shops don't, but it's the variety of businesses that gives Paris its village feel, they say. And for that they are willing to pay a little extra.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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