Changes at Place Saint-Michel

Better bike lanes, fewer bookshops — the recent changes at Place Saint-Michel are a mixed bag.

Bicycle lane at Place Saint-Michel

The bicycle lanes at Place Saint-Michel are now wider and better protected than I remember them from before the pandemic. This is typical of the improvements that have been made to the bicycle infrastructure all over Paris.

How cyclists get across the intersection at Place Saint-Michel

The routing of bicycles through intersections has also been improved, and it certainly feels safer now than in previous decades.

Protected bicycle lane on Saint-Michel Bridge

I was especially impressed by the new (at least new to me) protected bicycle lane on Pont Saint-Michel, which is the bridge connecting Place Saint-Michel with the island of the Cité. The sturdy-looking bright yellow separators are a great improvement, especially since we cyclists now have our own lane which we no longer have to share with buses and taxis.

One of the former Gibert Jeune bookshops, now empty

The bad news from Place Saint-Michel is that all four Gibert Jeune bookshops have been shut down, permanently. The reasons for this are partly local (gentrification of the Latin Quarter, de-centralization of higher education in Paris) and partly general (the spread of e-books, audio books and online book sales). These Gibert Jeune shops had been in financial trouble for several years, even before the coronavirus pandemic finally forced their closure in March 2021.

One of the two remaining Gibert Jeune bookshops on Quai Saint-Michel

Around the corner, on Quai Saint-Michel, two Gibert Jeune bookshops are still in operation, at least for the time being.

All you loyal readers of my earlier post on the Gibert Joseph and Gibert Jeune bookshops might recall that the Quai Saint-Michel was where the original Gibert company got its start back in 1886, when Joseph Gibert moved to Paris and went into business as a bouquiniste, buying and selling books using four of the traditional dark green boxes on the quay. But after two years as a bouquiniste, he decided he needed more space for his growing business, so he opened his first shop on the Quai Saint Michel.

After Joseph Gibert died in 1915, his two sons continued to run the business. They did this together for fourteen years, but then decided in 1929 that each brother should have his own company. The older brother, called Joseph after his father, founded his own book store a few blocks up on the Boul’ Mich’ (Boulevard Saint-Michel), while the younger brother Régis kept on running their father’s stores under the name of Gibert Jeune (jeune meaning young). These two companies remained separate for nearly ninety years, until Gibert Joseph bought Gibert Jeune in 2017, in an attempt to save the latter from bankruptcy.

Le Petit Marché at Saint-Michel fountain

When I rode by in September 2022 there was a market, consisting mainly of white tents, that occupied most of the pedestrian space in front of the Saint-Michel fountain. This was apparently just a temporary market, for a few weeks in September, and was intended to promote products that were made in France using traditional or typical French techniques.

There is also a Christmas market on this space from the end of November to the beginning of January. At other times of year this is a popular meeting place for both tourists and locals.

My photos in this post are from 2022. I wrote the text in 2023.

See more posts on the Latin Quarter in Paris.
See more posts on bookshops and cycling.

22 thoughts on “Changes at Place Saint-Michel”

  1. Saint Michel still looks familiar, but also so different from even just three years ago, when I last was in Paris! While I appreciate the heavier enforcement on biking and biking safety, I’m surprised (but not shocked) that Gilbert Jeune has closed down, as I used to go there to buy French books to read. A sign of the changing times, that’s for sure…

  2. I love your photographs and I’ve told you before, how you remind me of John Baxter, and that’s a high compliment. I want you to know how grateful I am that you always read my essays. I’m truly humbled. Susannah

    1. Thanks, Susannah. I always look forward to reading your new blog posts. They’re always interesting, and often they remind me of my four years as an undergraduate in New York.

      1. You never told me that. Another thing I enjoy is how, some of your comments are in French. It’s such a beautiful language, even in print. Easy on the eye. Once again, I thank you. 🙂

  3. Bad news! I always visited the Gilbert Jeune Bookshop at Place St. Michel, when visiting Paris. Hardly ever bought a novel as I prefer the E-Reader for these, but there was a wide selection of photo books about Paris. I did not know however, that the history of the store. Thank you for the information.

  4. I’ve been to the Gibert Jeune located near the Saint-Michel métro. It’s unfortunate to hear that they’ve closed. I recall feeling overwhelmed with the bookshop’s size and massive selection.

  5. Increased cycling and setup of infrastructure is one of the rare positive effects of Covid-19. Cities which are adopting these changes will certainly benefit in the long run. Thanks Don for sharing this update.

    1. I so agree. In New York City, where I live, book stores are disappearing at the speed of light. You can count them on one hand. Such a shame. What’s next, closing down libraries? Such a scary thought.

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