PARIS — Will there be a fifth act in the “gilets jaunes” movement?
Following four weekends of antigovernment violence in Paris, French police officials said they would maintain the same security measures in Paris on Saturday, while retailers were of two minds about closing stores at the apex of the holiday shopping season.
Ten days before Christmas, Galeries Lafayette Group said its Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais department stores would open on Saturday, with extra security staff, and stay open a little longer than usual on Sunday to compensate for lost business. It will also be business as usual for Le Bon Marché, while Printemps has opted to open from noon to 8:45 p.m.
Businesses on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées — including Zara, H&M, Louis Vuitton and a number of restaurants — will remain open on Saturday. “But everyone is doing their own thing,” commented Edouard Lefebvre, general manager of the Comité des Champs-Élysées.
“Twenty-five percent of business happens in December, and Saturdays account for 20 percent of our sales,” he continued. “If you do the math, you see that this month we’ve lost about 4 or 5 percent of our yearly business.”
Luxury group Kering said its stores would stay closed, while LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, whose portfolio of brands includes Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chaumet, was mulling whether to shut its boutiques for the second Saturday in a row.
Chanel said it would err on the side of caution and close its Parisian stores for the day, while Hermès plans to shutter its flagship on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, but open its two other stores in the city as usual.
The Hermès boutique sits on a section of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré that will be entirely sealed off for the fifth weekend in a row, on what Benjamin Cymerman, president of the Comité du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, described as the “biggest Saturday of the year” in terms of sales.
The forced closures have affected 69 stores, including boutiques belonging to Chanel, Valentino, Saint Laurent, Tod’s and Loro Piana, resulting in millions of euros of lost business, Cymerman said.
City officials have also urged caution for retailers on nearby Rue Royale and Rue Saint-Honoré, stating the risk for damage is higher than last Saturday. “Forty stores in this sector have decided to close,” said Cymerman, adding that the planned closure of more than 40 metro stations in central Paris would also prevent staff from going to work.
As a result of these closures as well as general unrest, traffic on one of the main luxury arteries in Paris is in decline. “We’ve seen an important decrease in tourism in the area since the beginning of the events,” explained Cymerman. “Most of all, we’re afraid of the impact they might have on the beginning of next year.”
Rogerio Fujimori, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, estimated luxury sales in France in the last four weeks fell between 25 percent and 30 percent, with total sales for the sector expected to be down 1 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter.
French luxury brands, which represent 6.5 percent of global sales, have been the most affected, he said in a research note. Hermès was among the worst hit, with sales expected to dip 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter, according to RBC.
A week ago, the French retail federation told Reuters that its members had lost 1 billion euros in sales since the protests began on Nov. 17.
Speaking on French national radio station RTL, Michel Delpuech, head of the police department, confirmed that 8,000 officers and 14 armored vehicles would patrol the French capital on Saturday, on a level with last week’s figures.
The announcement comes at a pivotal time for the “gilets jaunes” movement, which started out as discontent over a fuel tax but has broadened to encompass a range of frustrations over declining living standards. It takes its name from the reflective safety vests sported by the demonstrators.
Over the last month, protesters vandalized storefronts, looted shops and attacked national monuments. On Dec. 8, 1,082 people were arrested in Paris alone.
Adding to the tension, French officials have declared a state of high alert after a terrorist attack in Strasbourg on Tuesday that killed three people and wounded 13. The suspect in the attack, Chérif Chekatt, was found and killed by police on Thursday evening after a 48-hour manhunt.
Government authorities raised the country’s national security threat level to “emergency terror attack,” the highest status of its Vigipirate plan.
Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux on Thursday urged protesters to suspend protests this weekend in light of the events in Strasbourg, but also the measures unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday in response to their demands.
Protesters have dismissed as insufficient the government’s proposal, which includes a promise to raise the monthly minimum wage by 100 euros, according to local media.
Macron also appealed to French businesses to pay their employees a tax-free, year-end bonus in order to boost spending power. LVMH, Kering and Total have said they plan to join the effort.
The government has also scrapped the planned tax on fuel that sparked the demonstrations. Despite this, more than 4,400 people have signed up for a Facebook event named “Acte V” (“Act 5”) organized by the Gilets Jaunes de France group and urging protesters to march on the Champs-Élysées on Saturday.
Last Saturday, retailers on the famed thoroughfare closed their doors in preparation for another round of violence. Entire sections of central Paris, usually bustling with Christmas shoppers at this time of year, were deserted as police faced off demonstrators across town. Thousands of stores erected wooden barricades and remained shut, giving the impression of a ghost town.
The Louvre, the Grand Palais, the Opéra Garnier and the Musée d’Orsay will again remain shut on Saturday.
On Friday, the euro fell 0.6 percent to below the $1.13 mark after French private sector output contracted for the first time in two and a half years as a result of the “gilets jaunes” protests, according to the monthly IHS Markit Flash France Composite Output Index.