On the Left Bank of Paris, the English-language bookshop Shakespeare and Company has been a popular gathering place and lending library for expatriate writers from Hemingway to Joyce since the 1920s and 1930s.
The shop’s current owner, 95-year old American expat George Whitman, has handed over the reins to his 28-year-old daughter, Sylvia, who has big ambitions to take Shakespeare and Company–which until recently had no internet access or even a telephone–into the modern era.
Over the years, the store has housed literally thousands of writers and artists in need of place to stay and even today, a handful of nomadic writers still bunk down there. But in a sign of changing times at the store, the dusty, decrepit rooms for writers are being spruced up, while a café and small theater are also being installed. Sylvia Whitman has struck a lucrative deal with Rodier champagne company, who will sponsor author readings, and other new arrangements include hiring students at New York University to work and write at the shop.
A sponsorship deal with Eurostar gives visiting authors a free round-trip, first- class passage between London and Paris. Despite the changes, Whitman insists that the legendary bookstore will stay true to its roots. “I don’t need to rebrand the place,” she recently told Bloomberg. “This is the rebirth of the most powerful brand in the bookstore business.”
But however much some things may change, Whitman predicts the shop’s top 3 selling titles will remain the same: A Moveable Feast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Little Prince. The French government recently recognized the singularity of Whitman’s efforts by elevating the American bookseller to the rank of Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters, one of the country’s highest honors, and one that is rarely given to a foreigner.