IT’S ANYTHING GOES WEDNESDAY! Today, I offer this photo. I shot it the day after all non-essential businesses were forced to close in order to slow the spread of Coronavirus. Although, I wouldn’t call cafés “non-essential.” To Parisians they are very essential, a vital part of local community life.
In a city where people live in tiny apartments, cafés serve as our living rooms, our offices, and our connection to the larger world. They are unpretentious and affordable, and anyone who can pay for the price of a cup of coffee has a rightful seat for as long as they want it. That’s important in a diverse city like Paris. You can read more about that, here.
But cafés, like all small businesses, have been struggling in Paris long before the pandemic. Since 2014, Paris has lost over 300 cafés* thanks to gentrification and rising rents. There are few safety nets for the entrepreneur in France, fewer for small businesses, even though they provide employment. The French government did recognize the problem of café closures around France, and last year began a program to offer grants to anyone willing to open or preserve a café in small towns. But big cities like Paris are not on that list.
Paris has lost over 300 cafes since 2014
It’s been crushing to see all my local cafés shuttered during this pandemic, knowing what I know about their struggles. How many of these cafés will reopen after this shutdown? How many will we lose forever? Even successful restaurateurs are starting to fret, especially after President Macron’s recent speech hinting that they may not be able to reopen until July. The question of government aid hangs in the air. Will they help? How much? Does Macron understand just how important these inclusive public houses are to the people of this city?
Last year, I launched Save the Paris Café as a response to the café closures I was seeing, but it has never seemed more timely. We are a creative collective of writers, artists, restaurateurs—expats and Parisians—all extolling the virtues of cafés and café culture in Paris and France. On the home page I open with this line: “It’s impossible to imagine Paris without cafés and bistros…” But today, in lockdown, we can see exactly what it would be like. A devastating blow to the culture of Paris, and to the daily lives of Parisians.
This is what occupies my mind today: the fate of the Paris café.
*French National Statistics Office, 2014 – 2018