Volume XVIII, Issue 4
How the Marais and other neighborhoods in Paris are changing is an ongoing conversation I have with my journalist friend, Liz Alderman, as we did just this week, the day before her article posted in the New York Times, “Departing: Two Shopkeepers, Their Cat and Part of Paris’s Soul.” Liz has been a long-time resident of the Marais, as have I. We watch the small independent merchants give way to the chain stores who can more easily afford the high rents and expensive employment costs associated with running a retail establishment.
Her article opens with the sad tale of a minimart run by two Moroccan brothers for over 35 years on which her little corner of the “hood” depended. It is now lost to yet another “Princesse Tam Tam” lingerie shop that the neighborhood residents need a whole lot less than a minimart. (There are already three in her immediate area!) The minimart wasn’t just a “minimart” — according to Liz, it was a gathering spot for the denizens of the neighborhood where the brothers were at the center of the comings and goings of their clients. It will be sadly missed by those who frequented it.
Residents are complaining, naturally. Once useful establishments owned and run by independents are making way for luxury goods and large chains that attract the tourist trade “consuming neighborhoods and eroding cultural identity,” as Liz wrote. Le Marais may be feeling it even more than other areas of the city as it has gained in popularity by visitors with its ongoing “gentrification,” but Paris isn’t the only city to experience the transformation. This is the way the world is turning and whether we like it or not, we can’t change it.
But, do we really want to?
First off, there are many unstoppable reasons for the change, starting with our ability to travel more. Cities are thrilled to welcome more tourists and the increased economic activity, but with that comes the need to serve and satisfy those tourists. Look at the popularity of Airbnb. That happened because of the need for accommodations for travelers and transients. The permanent residents and cities are complaining that their buildings are now filled with short-term residents, and blaming them for the turn-over of these merchants, too, but how do you stop people from traveling and discovering the world? Do you want to stop your own traveling? I doubt it.
With the increase of tourism and increased economic activity comes an increase in the value of the real estate, too. Property in the Marais has increased in value by many times since I moved in more than 20 years ago when I used to call it “scruffy,” but charming. There’s no complaint about that. Property owners in the Marais are not the only ones enjoying that appreciation. That increase in value fuels the retail chain operations that earn their profits more from their real estate holdings than their sales. I call it “flipping burgers” which comes from McDonald’s success that has little to do with its burgers and fries, but with the real estate it has developed. (See “McDonald’s isn’t just a fast-food chain—it’s a brilliant $30 billion real-estate company.”) The chain stores opening more outlets than they need in the neighborhood profit from developing these locations and reselling the real estate or the leases, much more than selling bras and panties.
So yes, it’s all about money, just like everything. And we’re all guilty of wanting our share. If we own an investment property, we want it to generate revenue to at least cover its costs, if not earn a nice profit. Don’t we? And don’t we want to take that additional income and travel to some exciting place where we can have a luxurious experience and take home some special souvenir or memory? Of course, we do. Then, back at home, we don’t want our minimarts to go away nor see our neighborhoods lose their hearts and souls…but aren’t we the ones really at fault?
It’s easy to blame the corporations, but it’s always a case of supply and demand. The corporations seek profits, just like the independents. Gaining those profits means satisfying a need. If we don’t have the need, then the merchants have no reason to offer the products or services. So, which came first? The chicken or the egg?
This is our dilemma. Do we want to live where there’s less threat of this kind of change, but also less potential appreciation? Or to the contrary, where our investment generates profit and thereby improves our lifestyle? Or are we harming our lifestyles regardless? And if so, how do we change that?
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. We’re looking for a loft or atelier style property in Paris in which to tape a House Hunters International episode — valued between 350,000€ and 400,000€. If you have such property or know of one, please contact me immediately! Merci!