Protesters in Paris on Tuesday

With protests over proposed labor-law changes jamming the streets of Paris, some retailers said drawn-out civil disobedience could sour sales.

PARIS — With hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets here Tuesday to protest proposed changes to France’s rigid labor laws, the impact on retail was mixed.

While some stores reported business as usual, others said there were fewer shoppers and expressed worry that drawn-out civil disobedience and street violence could sour sales.

Public transportation was disrupted across the country, with traffic patchy on subways, buses and trains due to a one-day general strike. Airports were also affected.

But that didn’t keep the persistent away from stores. Though most customers in the big Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores appeared to be foreign, there were some young French students.

“I don’t feel much solidarity with the movement,” said Aurore Braquenie, a third-year law student here who was shopping at Galeries. “I went to class this morning and, strangely, I didn’t have much difficulty with the [subway]. So I decided to go shopping.”

Caroline Pasquale, a literature student who also was shopping at Galeries, said she marched in two protests last week. But with heavy rain Tuesday morning, she opted to go shopping instead. “The marches are turning more violent,” she said. “I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Spokeswomen at the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps said the strikes had no impact on traffic today, but sales staff questioned at the two stores said business was quiet.

At the Left Bank Bon Marché specialty store, Severine Merle, the image and commercial director, said: “We don’t have as many shoppers. That’s evident.”

Merle said she expected sales to be hit by at least 15 percent, which is typical on a major strike and protest day.

Last week, when street riots erupted in the neighborhood and protestors set fire to a newsstand outside of the store, sales declined 15 percent compared with last year, Merle said. She expressed fears that tourists would cancel trips to France if protests continue and become more violent.

Last Thursday, police arrested hundreds of youths. Witnesses reported rioters breaking shop windows, vandalizing cars and clashing with police. Last week protesters set fire to cars and broke shop windows near the Invalides, where Napoleon is buried.

This story first appeared in the March 29, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the face of mounting civil strife, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin showed no sign of retracting his proposed law that would relax the country’s complicated labor regulations, making it simpler to hire and fire first-time workers. His legislation would allow employers to fire workers under 26 without cause in the first two years.

Many believe his persistence is setting up a showdown between unions and students and his government, which was already weakened by riots last fall.

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