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Booksellers on the Seine get the boot ahead of next summer's Olympics in Paris


Planners of next summer's Olympic Games in Paris are promising a spectacular event like nothing you've seen before, starting with the Parade of Nations, which will take place in boats on the River Seine. But the ceremony will displace a treasured symbol of Paris - the hundreds of green book stalls that line the riverbank. Rebecca Rosman tells us more.


VICTOIRE RUIS: (Speaking French).

REBECCA ROSMAN: Sixty-nine-year-old bookseller Victoire Ruis flashes a big smile as she counts change for her second customer of the day.

RUIS: (Speaking French).


ROSMAN: Ruis hands a friendly German tourist his purchase, a German translation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers." By now, it's nearly 4 p.m. Two sales at her stall on the Seine River obviously isn't a lot. But like many of the city's 230 bouquinistes - or riverside booksellers - she hardly got into this profession for the money.

RUIS: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "This is the greatest period of my life," says Ruis, who, in 2017, took over this dark green stall near the Notre Dame Cathedral after spending decades working as a translator.

RUIS: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Ruis says life as a bouquiniste carries a certain charming rhythm - one that now stands to be disrupted during next summer's Paris Olympic Games. Earlier this month, the Paris mayor's office issued an order for the bouquinistes to be temporarily dismantled during the games, citing security reasons.

RUIS: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "But we're going to fight to stay," Ruis insists. She raises her fists in the direction of the Paris city hall. Otherwise, they're going to pay for this, she says.

According to an association representing the bouquinistes, the Olympic Games, combined with the dismantling of their stalls, means they stand to lose up to four months of business. Ruis and other bouquinistes have at least one big upper hand. Many people in this book-loving nation want them to stay.

BRETON GWEN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "The bouquinistes have been around for more than four centuries," says passerby Breton Gwen, who calls the move a disgrace.

STEPHANIE PAUL: The history of the bouquiniste is absolutely fascinating.

ROSMAN: That professional tour guide Stephanie Paul. We're standing on the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, as she walks me through the history of how the bouquinistes got their name.

PAUL: It comes from the Dutch word bouquin, which literally means little book.

ROSMAN: Bouquinistes originally met the needs of students on the hunt for everything from books to stamps and maps. While their demographic has expanded to, well, just about any reader, the goods they offer pretty much remain the same. As for their impending temporary removal, Paul says the city's purpose isn't entirely clear.

PAUL: I don't know if they're worried that someone's going to throw a heavy book at an athlete or something - you know, take out the entire volleyball team. I - who knows? But I do definitely think that the Paris government is going to use this as an opportunity to revamp the way the bouquinistes are, for good or for bad.

ROSMAN: She points out that some of the stalls, which are all owned by the city, are in desperate need of repairs. Bouquiniste Victoire Ruis agrees on that point but says putting in new stalls is the kind of thing that shouldn't take more than a few weeks, let alone a few months.

RUIS: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: After all, the summer, with its nice weather and influx of tourism, brings in the best months of the year to be a bouquiniste, she says, with or without the Olympics.

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF 9TH WONDER'S "SIDE BY CLACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rebecca Rosman