This is the ultimate booklover's paradise and an historic and probably even iconic Paris establishment. It is famous for its huge stock of really old books and I would hazard a guess and say that there are some very valuable if not priceless pieces here.
It is said that in days gone by writers could actually sleep in the shop whilst they were writing. I doubt that this is still the case, but Shakespeare and Co. is still an extremely popular and well patronised business in Paris.
Located near the river in the Latin Quarter, it presents as a colourful and very interesting shop that takes your eye and invites you to stop for a while just to watch. There are great messages written on blackboards outside that are worth taking the time to read.
The original Shakespere and company was an English language bookshop that operated between the two world wars. It was frequented by many a famous author, including the bearded one himself, Hemmingway. It is alleged that it was only closed down in 1941 when a German officer was refused permission to buy the last remaining copy in the shop of 'Finnegan's wake'. If they had sold it to him, then they surely would have been closed down all the quicker.
After WW2 George Whitman, an American didn't fancy heading back home too quickly. He eventually ended up opening a small bookstore opposite Notre Dame in the Latin Quarter. The bookstore has slowly grown since, and took over the name 'Shakespere and co' upon the death of the owner of the first store.
Nowadays, the place is completely packed out with books in a somewhat eccentric way. Inbetween the books lie a number of simple beds. It is estimated that George has given fee lodgings to over 50,000 stuggling artists and writers over the years. I believe this wonderfully eccentric tradition still continues. George unfortuantely passed away in 2011 at the venerable age of 98.
The shop opens at noon (well you can't expect intellectuals to struggle out of bed before that time), and works through to midnight. When I was last there, there was a seminar going on in a first floor rooms. Sat round in a circle, they were all spouting forth a load of pretensious rubbish.
I felt quite at home.
One of the things on my list of places to visit while in Paris was the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We found it easily-- located on the left bank at 37 Rue de la Bucherie opposite Notre Dame. The bookstore was originally founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Beach was an author, bookseller and publisher and her shop became a gathering place for French, British, American and Irish writers. During the 1920's and 30's it was known as a place of temporary refuge for struggling writers such as E. Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce and many others. In 1951 George Whitman became the new owner of Shakespeare & Company.
We enjoyed browsing through rows and rows of books stacked from ceiling to floor. We even climbed the narrow stairway (a challenge-nothing to hold on) to the 2nd floor & among more books Amy found a cat sleeping on an old chair.
We made our purchases and stood and watched as each book was stamped with the symbolic imprint of Shakespeare & Co. We enjoyed the bookstore and even went back a 2nd time.
Even if you don't like books, or haven't seen the movie “Before Sunset" this famous bookstore is a fun place to stop in. Make sure you head over from Notre Dame. I tried to find it from the south side and walked in circles. Of course it might have something to do with the fact that the building was under restoration and I couldn't see the sign!
I donated a copy of my book 'Why?" to Shakespeare & Company, a great little English-language bookstore. Hemingway wrote of this store and its owner quite a bit. This isn't the original store, but it captures some of the feel. It's tightly packed inside. The library where you can hang out and read is on the 2nd floor. You'll have to go up some tiny stairs to get there and it's cramped. I don't know if they'll keep my book as they said they would, but it was a fun idea to leave a copy of it for future historical purposes. If nothing else, there's copy of something I wrote in Paris. I also left behind my copy of "A Moveable Feast."
I've been to Paris five times prior and have walked past Shakespeare & Company, never bothering to visit. After reading about it since then I made sure not to miss it on my sixth and latest visit to Paris.
Well, it's right across from the Seine and it's sure noticeable with its colorful paint. When you step into this tiny bookstore you will be totally overwhelmed by all the new and used books everywhere-literally everywhere: in boxes, on tables, on shelves, even on a small bed which I'm puzzled as to why it's there.
Anyway, it's a bit claustrophobic when tons of tourists decide to visit the same time as you do. But there are actuall different sections and when you find something you like, pay at the cashier which is the lady sitting in the front surrounded by books.
Notice that she will stamp one of the pages with a 'Kilometre Zero' stamp-a great souvenir of Paris as the Ile de La Cite is considered kilometre zero or where Paris began.
I understand that there is a cat who resides there, but I didn't see it. Good thing or else I may have ended up stepping on its tail by accident. Not a nice thing to do on vacation.
We happened upon this little bookstore... :) What a find.
Writers and poets were offered a room for the night if they didnt have enough money for a hotel. Customers were invited for Afternoon Tea, if they happened to be browsing at that time of day.
The cranky old Englishman who ran the store is a real character. It is quite amusing watching the young French cashiers and students patiently accepting the directions of their agitated boss... I am sure they understood his muttered comments!? ;)
Update May 2007: Beatchick tells me that the man running the shop is an American, George Whitman, thanks for the info Beatchick... the English-accented man who was at the shop the day we were there must be a hired hand.
George Whitman's bookshop on the quay opposite Notre Dame is a noble enterprise that is worthy of everyone's support. I owe George a big thankyou for putting a roof over my head after I experienced financial insolvency on my first trip to Paris. He proceeded to offer the same kindness to two friends of mine a few years later and I have great respect for his mixture of enterprise and patronage.
But most tourists leave the contemporary Shakespeare and Co under the impression that this was where Joyce et al consorted with Sylvia Beach. To find the real Shakespeare and Co you must go to Rue Odeon... It isn't a bookshop anymore and you really can't see how it could have been except by looking at the bookshop further down the steet towards the metro stop. But if you are looking for atomosphere just go into the "10" bar next door. Go downstairs any night after 8 and a couple of jugs of Sangria later composing a literary masterpiece will be a more likely possibility than finding the ability to climb back up those stairs...
Like it says on their website, http://shakespeareco.org/index.htm, Shakespeare and Company has grown from a bookstore into an institution. It's a landmark for tourists, but is also a great bookstore. One thing about living in Europe is that I miss English-language bookstores. This is one of the best in Europe in my opinion. There are always events going on. Check out the website for more info.
This is the current incarnation of a bookstore run by Sylvia Beach in the '20s 1st at 12 rue Dupuytren and then at 12 rue de l'Odeon. Galignani* which sits next door to Angelina's is considered to be the 1st English bookshop in Europe.
George claims to be grandson of Walt Whitman while his daughter is named for Sylvia Beach. This past trip I tried twice to meet up with him but being in his 90s George takes few visitors & no longer stays late.
Beach was the first to publish James Joyce's seminal work Ulysses because no publisher would touch it. Although Hemingway & Fitzgerald never stayed here, they did hang out at Miss Beach's original establishment, borrowing books from her lending library, drinking her tea. Hemingway & Sylvia were great friends and both chronicled his "liberation" of Shakespeare & Co the same day he "liberated" the Ritz bar (accounts differ between them as to which he liberated first!). Writers back in the day tried to catch a glimpse of Joyce, the GREAT modern Irish writer. Sylvia's partner, Adrienne Monnier, was extremely fond of F. Scott Fitzgerald & invited him to their home for her famous roast chicken.
E-mail me if you'd like a list of places the Fitzgeralds, Joyces & Hemingways literary haunts.
If you've seen the movie Before Sunset, you'll recognize this place as the initial setting in the movie. Click HERE to continue the walk on rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre.
Click here for shopping suggestions.
Photos: Feb 2006
This is a well-known bookstore, selling both used and new books (I believe). In the photo, I'm clutching the D&K guidebook that had brought us through the neighbourhood to the site.