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A wave of retail action in the city is bringing innovative concepts and major names to a range of neighborhoods.
Some shops are spurring a resurgence in certain areas. For instance, in the last 12 months, Merci — a concept store on Boulevard Beaumarchais that mingles fashions and home products, donating profits to charity — has revitalized the area on the eastern edge of the Marais district, previously home mainly to music shops and camera stores.
Similarly, the opening of the Ralph Lauren flagship in Saint-Germain-des-Prés has boosted demand for commercial space in the tony Left Bank district, which this fall will also become home to a new Hermès store.
But the biggest buzz is around the most traditional of French tourist hot spots: Avenue des Champs- Elysées. Despite the global economic downturn, rents on the tree-lined avenue held firm last year as brands sought the security of a premium location with world-wide recognition.
Commercial property is hot even on the shady south side of the street, which used to be less popular than the sunny north side until Louis Vuitton renovated its flagship in 2005, drawing a host of top brands in its wake, said Chris Igwe, head of retail for France at CB Richard Ellis.
“There was a point where the retailers or the brands felt that the Champs-Elysées was essentially just a window and wasn’t really worth the investment and cost, because they didn’t feel there was a significant uplift in their sales densities or indeed their national or global awareness,” he said. “Today, we’ve seen a swing in terms of the way retailers or brands are thinking about their strategy globally. They’ve gone back to what I would say is a ‘major city’ strategy. The Champs-Elysées has been driven to the forefront.”
Running from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, the fabled thoroughfare remained the most expensive retail location in Europe and the third costliest worldwide in 2009, with rents averaging $1,009 per square foot annually, according to the Main Streets Across the World report published by Cushman & Wakefield.
That is still sharply below New York’s Fifth Avenue, the world’s priciest location with annual rents of $1,700 per square foot, but higher than Via Montenapoleone in Milan, Europe’s second most ex- pensive spot at $887 per square foot per year, according to the report.
At those prices, few but the biggest groups can keep up.
“As you look at it across the spectrum of different sectors of business, the fashion retailers are the ones who are able to pay more now,” said Igwe.
“Many of these retailers and brands have some of their best stores in the world on the Champs-Elysées, so the sales densities are high enough that they can justify the reason for being on the Champs-Elysées.”
Recent arrivals on what has been dubbed “the world’s most beautiful avenue” include Massimo Dutti, which in March opened its 500th store at number 119.
Spread more than 5,400 square feet, the two-story shop carries clothing for men, women and children and was designed in accordance with Inditex’s new guidelines for eco-efficiency.
This month, watch brand Tissot opened a 1,075-square-foot boutique at number 76, which includes a terrace and cafe and a 46-inch flat screen that enables visitors to see watches in 3-D on their wrist.
Coming up this fall are flagships for Tommy Hilfiger, with a 9,000-square-foot unit at 65 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, and H&M, which overcame years of resistance from city authorities to obtain the green light for its Jean Nouvel-designed space at number 90, expected to open in October.
“It is an extremely popular location for Parisians as well as international visitors, and one of the most famous streets in the world, which is why we would like to open a store there,” said Håcan Andersson, a spokesman for the Swedish fast-fashion giant.
“This store will have an exclusive facade and interior design, and for this unique and prestigious project, we wanted to work with Jean Nouvel, an architect who represents like no one else the best of what France has to offer today,” he added.
Among those who had initially opposed the H&M store is the Comité Champs-Elysées, which represents the bulk of businesses on the iconic stretch. The Comité has argued that global fashion brands risk edging out lower-margin businesses such as cinemas, cafes and restaurants, which help attract an average of 200,000 visitors on weekdays and between 400,000 and 600,000 on weekends.
“The Champs-Elysées has a four-centuries-old tradition as a promenade destination. What is new is that it has become such an important shopping hub,” said Edouard Lefebvre, general manager of the business association.
“While we are obviously very pleased about this, one of the secrets of the Champs-Elysées is that we are attached to being a promenade destination,” he added.
Nonetheless, the Comité Champs-Elysées has signaled its openness to foreign arrivals by signing a cooperation agreement in April with Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s main shopping street, aimed at promoting economic exchanges.
It has also launched the Champs-Elysées Welcome Pack, which provides foreign companies looking to set up shop on the avenue with services such as tem- porary office space and recruiting agents.
New arrivals in 2011 are expected to include Banana Republic, Levi’s and Abercrombie & Fitch.