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Parisians fret about impact of Olympics on business

‘I’m trying to ignore the whole thing. I’m in denial. I only know one person who’s looking forward to the Olympics and she’s American!’

The motto of the 2024 Olympics may well be “Games Wide Open”, but less than five months from the opening ceremony, many Parisians seem more concerned about what’s likely to be closed. City mayor Anne Hidalgo is urging residents not to flee the French capital during the Games, amid surveys suggesting that at least half of them plan to do so.

“Hopefully we’ll have customers,” says Emmanuel Philippe, the owner of Le Bouchon Parisien. Located just a few hundred metres from what will be one of 15 citywide competition sites, the bistro is among 700 businesses based within so-called red exclusion zones.

While pedestrians and cyclists will be able to move around freely in these areas, vehicles will effectively be banned. With each Olympic venue set to be surrounded by no less than four security perimeters, people are being warned to expect disruption from as early as March and until at least October, due to the setting up and dismantling of temporary sites and installations for the Games, which run from July 26th to August 11th.

“Summer is always our busiest season,” says Philippe. “I’m happy that we’ll be hosting the Olympics, but we’re not at all confident about how it’s going to affect our business. They say we’ll have to organise overnight deliveries, but we don’t open until 9am. We’ll have to see what our suppliers can do.”


Other restaurateurs are feeling more optimistic, but all point to a general uncertainty about what to expect. “We don’t know exactly what the regulations will be during the Games,” says Mario Montano. “But we’ll get by, we’re warriors,” he adds mischievously. He’s the manager on duty at Ribe Cafe. Despite sitting in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, one of the world’s most-visited monuments, the restaurant is largely empty on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in February.

Not far from here, bewildered-looking tourists search for a suitable spot for a selfie, making their way past unsightly steel barriers and plastic-covered hoardings as they cross the Seine from Trocadéro en route to the Iron Lady. The area, which will host beach volleyball events, is undergoing wider redevelopment and promises to be one of the most spectacular Olympic sites.

Two kilometres along the river further east, another of the city’s famous landmarks is being transformed into an outdoor arena. Business owners at Place de la Concorde are bracing — not for the urban sports such as break dancing and skateboarding that will take centre stage here — but for something that sounds more akin to urban warfare. Many fear a rerun of the disruption they endured when a fan zone was set up on the square during the Rugby World Cup last autumn.

“It’s going to be horrible. Don’t get me started!” says retail worker Marianne Pirlot. “I’m trying to ignore the whole thing. I’m in denial. I only know one person who’s looking forward to the Olympics and she’s American!”

Also apprehensive is Francesco Mangano, who runs Darson, a cashmere boutique on Rue de Rivoli. “It was very hard to get around during the World Cup. People had problems getting to this part of the city on the days when France was playing.”

He’s worried that the Games will deter those who might otherwise have planned to holiday here this summer. “Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, so there are always visitors, but it’s been very quiet since Christmas. We’re not seeing the usual big tourist groups from Brazil, the US, Canada.”

It’s a similar story a few doors down at family-run luxury homeware store Sagil. The owners say footfall is lower than usual for this time of year. “We don’t have many tourists,” says Jennifer Ohayon. “As for the Olympics, we know nothing, not even the hours that we’ll be able to open.”

Others have already made up their minds to shut up shop. “We’ll be at the heart of the action, just off Concorde. Staying open would be a nightmare,” says Patrick Moynot, managing director of the English-language book store Smith & Son. “In any case, only about 30 per cent of our customers are tourists, and the kind of person who comes for the Games won’t be buying books or newspapers. As for deliveries, they usually arrive three or four times a week. We still don’t know the conditions for suppliers, the documents they’ll need. If we don’t have stock, we can’t stay open.”

Adding to the pressure on logistics firms, 185km of roads in the Île-de-France region will be reserved exclusively for athletes, organisers and the media. To ease the burden, people are being asked not to order parcels, or move house.

Bedtahar Adel, a driver with Green Lift removal services, is unloading furniture from an apartment overlooking the Seine. He doesn’t expect Parisians to pay much heed to official guidelines. “The world won’t stop turning because of the Games! I’m not looking forward to it. It’s already a headache driving around the city, morning, noon and night.”

Those who can are being advised to work from home, but that’s not an option for employees in sectors like retail and hospitality. Student Noémie Mizidy works part-time at Kielle jewellery store. “I live in the suburbs south of Paris. If the metro is closed, if the trains are full, I don’t know how I’ll be able to get to work or college. I’ve a knot in my stomach just thinking about it.”

As part of efforts to address those and other concerns, Paris police chief Laurent Nuñez, overseeing the security operation for the Games, has been meeting residents at locally organised information sessions. On a dreary Thursday evening, a 300-strong crowd is packed inside the Salle de la Fête at the Mairie de Paris Centre, but the atmosphere is far from festive. People are worried about access to public services and want reassurance that their businesses will stay afloat.

The country’s largest employers’ federation says efforts are ongoing to agree on a compensation scheme for the worst affected. Charles Znaty, president of Medef Paris, says individual business owners are divided about the merits of the Olympics. “About 45 per cent of our members are concerned. Questions remain regarding crucial issues, such as the conditions under which deliveries will be able to take place, and the obligations for restaurants.”

Overall, the federation estimates that the average visitor will spend €3,000 throughout their stay, generating an additional €1 billion for the wider region, bringing longer-term benefits to local businesses.

A stone’s throw from Place de la Concorde, Christopher Juchet remains unconvinced. “I don’t think the Olympics will be beneficial for us,” says the owner of Le Florentin bar and restaurant. “It was very tough during the Rugby World Cup. The streets were closed, people weren’t able to get to us. I don’t know what’s being planned this time, but I’m sure it will be chaos.”

If that’s the case, the resourceful entrepreneur plans to get creative. “We got through Covid, the Yellow Vest protests, metro strikes. We’ve always found a way, people have to eat and drink,” he says, with a cheerful shrug. “I’ll do whatever it takes. Even if it means putting a bag on my back, loading it with a keg of beer, and flogging it to passersby at Concorde.”

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