Paris store La Samaritaine closes its doors

15th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 15 (AFP) - The last customers and staff left one of Paris's oldest department stores, La Samaritaine, Wednesday night after it closed - possibly for several years - for safety reasons.

PARIS, June 15 (AFP) - The last customers and staff left one of Paris's oldest department stores, La Samaritaine, Wednesday night after it closed - possibly for several years - for safety reasons.  

About 300 of its employees staged a sit-in on the last day of trading, amid fears that the store's owner, the luxury goods house LVMH, will decide not to re-open it after urgent renovation works are completed.  

Backed by some customers they refused to leave when the art deco structure beside the Pont Neuf bridge in the city centre closed for business at 7:00 pm.  

But by 10:00 pm the last handful of protestors left the building.  

La Samaritaine was found in a recent police report to contain antiquated electrical circuits, malfunctioning smoke extraction systems and inflammable wooden flooring.  

The building is to be closed for an initial period of two weeks for a full technical inspection to be carried out, with the subsequent refitting likely to take several years.  

"The situation is so alarming that I cannot permit the store to be opened to the public any longer... There is no question of taking the slightest risk," said La Samaritaine's president Philippe de Beauvoir.  

"I do not wish to be president of the Mont Blanc tunnel," he said in reference to the fire disaster under the Alps that killed 39 people in 1999.  

The store's 750 direct employees have been told they will be retained on full pay, though only some 300 - mainly security and administrative staff - will be expected to turn up for work.  

Originally opened in 1869, La Samaritaine - or "La Samar" as it is also known to Parisians - was long known as a place where people could find anything and everything. However the last 15 years have seen a drastic decline in sales.  

LVMH, which took control in 2001, was planning to bring the store upmarket, as a showcase for its numerous designer labels such as Christian Dior and Lacroix. The company denied union allegations that it plans to close the store for good and convert the building into office space.  

Many staff were tearful over the imminent closure. "It is as if they were pulling down the Eiffel Tower," said Nadine, 38.  

La Samaritaine was founded by a commercial traveller called Ernest Cognacq. He named his store after a hydraulic pump by the Pont Neuf which bore the biblical image of the "Samaritan woman" giving Jesus a glass of water.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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