PARIS — As Paris stores reel from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, one area is shaping up as a new retail hub for the French capital.
The Quartier du Vertbois, or Vertbois district, in the Upper Marais district has seen a flurry of activity, as new tenants join a roster including Café Kitsuné, which this year opened its first European coffee roastery in the neighborhood, clothing brand A.P.C., record store Rupture and a Philippe Conticini bakery.
“It’s a bit like Shoreditch, in the beginning, or Silver Lake in Los Angeles, or Brooklyn, when the first hipsters arrived,” said Thomas Erber, the former journalist and man-about-town, who is artistic director of the project.
Except this is no organic development. The project is run by property investment management firm Patrizia, which initially acquired around 20 commercial leases in the neighborhood, with the aim of rejuvenating the area with a mix of food, fashion, art, design and music, after a separate failed project to launch a gastronomic hub known as La Jeune Rue.
The company has since built up a portfolio of nearly 35 stores, of which 85 percent are leased, with future arrivals including a new branch of chef Jean Imbert and entertainment force Pharrell Williams’ café-restaurant concept To Share, according to Charles-Nicolas Tarrière, managing director of the fund management team at Patrizia.
“Vertbois is extremely original,” said Tarrière, who specializes in higher-risk investments. “I’ve been in this profession for some 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s what we found exciting when we launched this project around five or six years ago.”
Recognizing that Parisians were fed up with cookie-cutter high streets, Patrizia decided on a mix of independent stores with smaller-scale chains, in the hopes of turning the hitherto sleepy area into a hip new retail destination.
“Increasingly, high streets look the same everywhere you go: whether you’re in Munich, Paris or New York, you see practically the same retailers,” Tarrière said. “We decided to aim for originality by bringing in retailers that, even if they have stores in other areas, come to the Vertbois district with a new store concept.”
Erber, known for curating a series of curiosity cabinets for former Paris concept store Colette, has brought a similarly eclectic approach to this venture. In addition to recruiting hip brands, he has hooked up with citywide events like Le Fooding and Paris Design Week to put the area on the map.
“It’s mainly for pleasure, because I love Paris. I’ve always been active in the cultural life of the city,” he explained. “Secondly, the idea is to bring traffic to the area, by linking up with established events that will bring the right kind of people to the neighborhood: people who like culture and beautiful things.”
To foster a sense of community, the stores in the area — loosely centered around the Rue du Vertbois, Rue Volta and Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth — are part of a collective that organizes events, like a Christmas market planned for the holiday period.
Among them are restaurants including Biche, Elmer, ISTR and Addommé, as well as art galleries Derouillon, Backslash and New Galerie, and a tattoo parlor, Drawtattoo.
“We’re trying together collectively to develop a little village in the heart of the world, something a little special and different from other neighborhoods,” said Erber, reprising his catchphrase for the project.
The district even has its own magazine, La Revue du Vertbois, and branded products, including an upcycled clothing collection produced by A.P.C. in collaboration with eco-friendly concept store Front de Mode, and a selection of wines.
Among the more recent arrivals is Kilometre Paris, the travel-themed women’s wear brand founded by Alexandra Senes, and upcoming openings include U.S. indie fragrance company The Society of Scent. Meanwhile, Maison Morin, a hotel decorated by designer Matali Crasset, is expected to open in 2023.
There have been hurdles, not least the COVID-19 lockdowns, which set the whole project back by 18 months, and ongoing renovation work on some dilapidated buildings, in what was historically a poor part of the Marais district.
“We’re restarting the engine,” said Tarrière, estimating it will take another six months to open the remaining stores. But he noted that even as Patrizia waived rents during lockdown, it continued to sign new leases. “Our rents are roughly a quarter or a fifth of what you would pay on Rue Vieille du Temple or in other streets in the center of the Marais,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Erber said it was crucial to make sure that city centers are kept alive, especially at a time when store vacancies are soaring.
“If people don’t pay attention, we’re going to wake up in 10 years and realize we’re living in ghost towns,” he said. “I find it really exciting, at a humble level, to have the opportunity to help try to transform the city in a neighborhood that, I hope, could become a case study for positive change.”