Paris Journal 2006

Wednesday, September 27

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It must be unending – trying to keep all the fences around all the parks in Paris in top shape.  Here, a worker re-gilds the pointy tops of the fence around the Luxembourg Gardens.

Today, I noticed that they finally removed this pink face that had been in the Medici fountain all summer.  I wonder what odd thing they will put in there next summer?

The Luxembourg Gardens still has a little theatre where there are regular puppet shows for the little ones.

I just learned today that La Coupole (see the info and photos on September 2)  is entirely non-smoking – all 440 or so places – and has been since July 1.  Smoking there is allowed only the covered terrace, which faces a busy street (boulevard Montparnasse) where you might not want to be anyway unless you like bus exhaust fumes with your tea.


Our two favorite “new finds” in terms of restaurants this summer are La Petite Chaise on rue de Grenelle in the 7th, and L’Espadon Bleu on rue des Grands Augustins in the 6th.  Both are very highly recommended.  The street-level dining room at La Petite Chaise seems to be entirely non-smoking, too.


Among my favorite shops in Paris are the Nicolas wine stores, of course.  There was one on avenue Émile Zola, near the apartment where we routinely stay in the 15th, and there is one near this apartment in the 6th, in the renovated Marché Saint Germain.  The one here in the Marché is also a Nicolas Café, like the one we visited in Bercy Village this summer.  It is a very good marketing idea, offering various wines by the glass at very reasonable prices, encouraging diners to try different wines with different courses (all very light food), in the hopes that the diners will then visit the shop and buy the wines they just consumed with dinner.


Le Parisien Économie just published a two-page spread on Nicolas which I found to be very interesting.  Nicolas has 450 stores, 60 percent of which are in the Paris region.  That makes its image very “parisienne,” and therefore makes it more difficult to establish new stores in the provinces.  There is a negative feeling in the provinces towards Paris.


Thirteen of the stores also are cafés. 


Nicolas is struggling a bit now because 70 percent of the French buy their alcohol in big box stores, which they call “les grandes surfaces” or “en grande distribution.”


We think of the French as being real wine connoisseurs.  However, 2 out of every 5 French people choose their wine according to the price. 


The average price of a bottle of wine purchased at Nicolas is 4.50 euros.  The average sale is 9 euros (meaning that people typically buy two bottles at a time, which fits with the way people in Paris seem to shop for groceries – usually they buy only enough for a day or two, unless they have a car and make it out to the big box stores where they will stock up).


The typical Nicolas customer is male (60%), although women are buying more and more.  The typical customer at Nicolas is Parisian, and he is between 35 and 50 years old.


Only a third of the customers are regular consumers, compared with 60% in the 1960s.


Twenty-five percent of total Nicolas sales are from the sale of champagne, which is much more expensive than the average Nicolas bottle of wine (4.50).


The under 35 crowd is more interested in beer and soda, so Nicolas now sells those items in its stores, in an attempt to attract the younger crowds.


The Nicolas family started its first wine store in 1822.  Back then, wine was not typically sold in bottles.  (So what was it in?  Wineskins?  I don’t know.  I do know that people used to buy beer by the bucket – their own bucket.  No need to make bottles that way.)


Etienne Nicolas revolutionized the consumption of wine by 1900 by generalizing the usage of the 1-liter glass bottle.  (When and why did it change to .75 liter?  I don’t know.)  He also started home delivery of wine, which was done by pushcart.


By 1922, Nicolas became one of the first enterprises to do its own marketing and advertising.  They used the image of Nectar, a funny looking guy who would deliver 32 bottles of wine using only two hands.  Each bottle bore the Nicolas label.  This icon was used by Nicolas just up to the 1970s.


In 1930, Nicolas undertook the renovation of its stores.  Each was re-done in a very Art Deco style, and for the first time was organized in self-service fashion.  (Before, I guess you went up to a counter and asked a clerk for whatever wine you wanted.)


The big box stores started to hurt Nicolas’ business by 1984.  Nicolas sold its distribution centers that it had used to stock its products since 1918.  From then on, Nicolas bought wine directly from the winemakers.  This is the point when Nicolas was no longer a wholesaler, but just a retailer.


In 1988, still hurting from the advent of the big box stores, Nicolas was sold to a conglomerate called Castel. 


To compete, Nicolas now promotes itself by promoting their role as advisors on the subject of wine.  And I do find that useful, particularly in this shop near us in the 6th.  In every Nicolas that I have been to, I have found the clerks and shopkeepers to be extremely courteous, too.  That is not so true of those who work in big box stores . . . .   


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