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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

This summer in Paris: More ‘open’ signs, thanks to the Olympics



Visitors to Paris in late July and early August usually find many small businesses closed as their owners head out of town on their own summer holidays. (Mauricio Lima/The New York Times)

By Lindsey Tramuta


Anyone who’s visited Paris in late July and August knows the word “fermé.” It adorns the darkened windows of chic indie boutiques and cozy bistros whose owners, along with other locals, have fled the city on their annual vacations.


This summer, with Paris expected to draw nearly 15 million visitors between July 26 and Sept. 8 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, that ritual is anything but certain. Many shopkeepers, bakers, restaurateurs and tour guides — citing patriotism as well as profit — say they’re planning to stay open.


It’s a decision that comes with unpredictability. The 2012 London Olympics have cast a long shadow in Paris. Before those Games, warnings of overcrowded roads, congested transit and security concerns emptied out much of the popular city center and the West End, causing a tourism slump in those areas. Small-business owners in Paris are hoping history does not repeat itself.


The French capital is in a better position than the British capital was, insisted Pierre Rabadan, Paris’ deputy mayor for sports. Most of the events in London were held in one section of the city, he said, while in Paris, they’re taking place all over. “So when businesses have asked if they should stay open,” he explained, “we tell them we’re trying to create the conditions for this to be a real opportunity and for the city to function normally.”


With streets restricted, Metro stations closed and public transportation likely to be jammed, “normally” might be a stretch. But if you’re traveling to Paris for the Olympics or Paralympics, you will most likely find more dining and shopping options than you would otherwise see at that time of year. Here’s what to expect.


Preparations and a few disruptions


“If you want to have your ‘Emily in Paris’ trip to Paris this summer, you absolutely can,” said Olivia Grégoire, France’s minister in charge of tourism. Most popular attractions will remain open as normal, but a few closures could complicate plans.


The Place de la Concorde was set to be blocked off, even to pedestrians and cyclists, as of June 1, and three nearby Metro stations will close until Sept. 21.


The Eiffel Tower will remain open except for the eve and day of the opening ceremony, July 26. The region’s airspace will also be closed for six hours before and during that event. And because the opening ceremony is set to take place on the Seine, river cruises, among the city’s most popular sightseeing experiences, will stop seven days before the ceremony and resume on July 27 at noon.


Owners of businesses that focus on tours and cultural experiences are banking on early-summer visitors to soften the blow that might come from a drop-off during the Games, after the Paris Tourist Office reported that participation in cultural activities was down 15% during the London Olympics.


Fat Tire Tours, a leading bike tour company, will run special Olympics-themed tours in early summer, then pivot to bike rentals during the Games to compensate for an expected drop in tour bookings.


Jane Bertch, a co-owner of La Cuisine Paris cooking school, which offers English-language classes in a location near City Hall, said she had noticed a sharp drop in bookings for late summer, but will “run as many classes as possible.”


Rising to the challenge


The Olympic crowds will bring appetites for Paris’ renowned cuisine, but for months, restaurateurs worried that restrictions on motorized vehicles in security zones around the city’s 25 competition venues could curtail deliveries. City officials have calmed some of those nerves.


“We don’t want restaurants to close during this monumental event because they’re worried about deliveries,” said Grégoire Ambroselli, a co-founder of the food logistics startup Choco, during an Olympics-related conference in March.


Now, armed with more clarity on how to adapt to delivery challenges, most restaurants and bakeries report they will stay open during the Games, with one big caveat: Many plan to take a break between the closing ceremony, on Aug. 11, and the start of the Paralympics, on Aug. 28.


Maslow, a soaring, centrally located vegetarian restaurant facing the Seine, wouldn’t dream of closing, given its proximity to the Olympic action. But that decision comes with some unease. “We’re staying positive because the energy will be incredible, but we’re a bit worried about how hard it will be for our staff to get to work,” said executive chef Mehdi Favri, who is also a co-owner.


Commuting has ranked high among businesses’ concerns. However, locals have faced similar hurdles getting to work before. In 2019, trains across France and public transport in Paris were severely disrupted for nearly two months during a nationwide pension reform strike, forcing workers to walk or cycle long distances.


André Terrail, the owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant La Tour d’Argent, which overlooks the Seine, doesn’t think the Olympic commutes will be quite that complex but admits such challenges, in general, are the price of doing business in Paris. “It’s going to be complicated. We’re all going to be running around. But it’s also going to be amazing,” he said. “If other host cities have found solutions, so will we.”


Etheliya Hananova, a co-owner and sommelier at the contemporary French restaurant Comice, is perhaps the most enthusiastic about the summer ahead — enough to remain open seven days a week for three weeks through Aug. 10. “It’s one of the biggest events in the history of Paris. We’re here to be part of the welcoming committee,” she said.

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