I’ve always liked the big Gibert Joseph bookshop on the Boul’ Mich’ (Boulevard Saint Michel) in the Latin Quarter because that’s where I used to buy my books when I was a student in Paris half a century ago.
The store is still very much the same now as it was back then, and they still have a huge selection of new and used books spread out over six large floors, so I still keep going back and usually find what I am looking for.
When I was looking for books on Vauban, for example, I went to Gibert Joseph and found two different second-hand books about him at bargain prices. And the same happened recently when I was looking for books on the 17th century courtesan Ninon de Lenclos.
The main Gibert Joseph store occupies the entire building at 26 Boulevard Saint Michel, between Rue de l’Ecole de Médicine and Rue Pierre Sarrazin. They say this is the largest book store in Paris, with 5000 square meters of floor space in the main store alone. At any one time they have about 500,000 books in stock, and another two million that they can procure at short notice.
In addition to the main book store, Gibert Joseph has four more addresses in the Latin Quarter, all close together on or near the Boul’ Mich’. On the same side of the street they also have a stationery shop at number 30, a classical music and jazz shop at number 32 and a shop for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays at number 34, plus a place where people can sell their books around the corner on Rue Pierre Sarrazin.
Here’s the awning, lettering and logo of the main Joseph Gibert store at 26 Boulevard Saint Michel. The company’s logo, between the two words “Joseph” and “Gibert”, is an outline map of France, because the company now has stores in eighteen French cities such as Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Étienne, Clermont-Ferrand, Poitiers, Dijon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Marseille and Versailles.
Around the corner from the main Gibert Joseph store, at 5-7 Rue Pierre Sarrazin, is the address where people can come to sell their books. Of course they don’t get very much for each book (which some people insist on moaning about on French websites), but it’s better than nothing. Conveniently, there is now a Vélib’ bicycle station, number 6031 (Pierre Sarrazin – Saint-Michel), exactly at this address.
But that’s not all, because there was another company called Gibert Jeune which also had several bookshops in the Latin Quarter, clustered around the Place Saint-Michel. Gibert Jeune and Gibert Joseph were in fact two separate companies for nearly ninety years, but they didn’t go out of their way to communicate this fact to the general public.
The story behind this is that in the year 1886 a former secondary school teacher called Joseph Gibert dropped out of teaching, moved to Paris and went into business as a bouquiniste, buying and selling books using four of the traditional dark green boxes on Quai Saint Michel, just as hundreds of bouquinistes still do today on the banks of the Seine.
But after two years as a bouquiniste, Joseph Gibert decided he needed more space for his growing business, so he opened his first shop on the Quai Saint Michel. He specialized in buying and selling used school books. This was a lucrative market because free, universal, obligatory and non-religious education had just been established in France in the 1880s, but free school books had not yet been introduced, so everybody still had to buy their own books.
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 on the Boul’ Mich’, while the younger brother kept on running their father’s stores under the name of Gibert Jeune (jeune meaning young).
This was the largest of eight Gibert Jeune shops on or near Place Saint Michel in the Latin Quarter. This one was for general books and fine arts, and was located directly on the square at number 5.
Here is another Gibert Jeune shop, specializing in books on tourism, leisure time, health and well-being. This shop was also directly on Place Saint Michel, at number 10. Note that this company’s logo, between the two words “Gibert” and “Jeune”, is a sketch of a young man (not an outline map of France).
Update: After nearly ninety years of separation, the two companies Gibert Jeune and Gibert Joseph were reunited in 2017, in an effort to save the former from bankruptcy. The four Gibert Jeune bookshops on Place Saint-Michel were closed permanently in March 2021, but the two around the corner on Quai Saint-Michel are still in operation.
My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2020 and 2023.