Paris Shopping

Iconic Parisian department store opens its doors again after 7 year facelift

LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, left, and President Emmanuel Macron   inaugurated the restored Samaritaine department store in Paris on Monday June 21, 2021.
LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, left, and President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated the restored Samaritaine department store in Paris on Monday June 21, 2021. Christophe ARCHAMBAULT AFP

Luxury goods group LVMH unveiled a fully revamped La Samaritaine this week, the 150-year-old department store designed to grab a greater slice of tourist spending once Covid travel curbs are lifted. 

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After a seven-year makeover, the historic store reopens to the public this Wednesday to rival the likes of Galeries Lafayette, housing a hotel, restaurants and shops.

Its reopening, originally scheduled for last year, was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

With contagion rates falling across most of Europe, France began to lift restrictions in mid-May but foreign travellers, particularly non-Europeans, are still largely absent.

Spending by visitors to France remains a major source of income for high-end brands, even if Chinese shoppers - the industry's number one clientele - have been buying a lot more at home under Covid - a shift expected to outlast the health emergency.

LVMH, the brand behind fashion labels such as Louis Vuitton, makes 8 percent of its 45 billion euro sales in France alone, and already owns upmarket Parisian department store Le Bon Marché.

Its latest venture, with 20,000m² of shopping space, sits on the banks of the Seine, close to tourist magnets like Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre.

La Samaritaine is famed for its 1920-era building and gilded Art Deco facade but the revamped store will include a 100m airport-style moving walkway through a tunnel to nearby parking.

Facing competition from online retailers, department stores were seeking to reinvent themselves as day-trip destinations even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The crisis has forced several prestigious U.S. names to file for bankruptcy.

LVMH reckons it may take up to two years for tourists to return en masse to France, but La Samaritaine expects to welcome around 5 million visitors a year when things go back to normal.

Taking on the rivals

The group hopes to rival peers like Qatari-controlled Printemps and family-owned Galeries Lafayette.

Some 37 million shoppers visit the latter's main store in Paris every year.

LVMH has spent 750 million euros on the iconic building's makeover, which includes a contemporary, undulating glass exterior designed by Japanese architectural duo SANAA.

The store had to shut its doors in 2005 as its original glass flooring was not sufficiently fire-resistant.

The complex will include a luxury rooftop hotel and be home to 96 flats under a social housing scheme.

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