Suzy Gershman’s Born to Shop: Little Africa, Paris
Fabrics in Little Africa in Paris.
In this city of haute couture, you can find designer fabrics by the meter in many posh stores in well-heeled districts about town. But if you want a bargain, or just something edgy, you should go to the fabric markets.
The main fabric market, which occupies a hill right below Sacre Coeur, is called the Marche St. Pierre and it consists of many buildings on several streets and side streets. However, the really interesting fabric market is in the part of town called Little Africa, just north of Marche St. Pierre (walking distance).
For some really ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ moments, take the metro to Chateau-Rouge, on the #4 line, just one stop past Barbes — which can be used for the Marche St. Pierre (I happen to use Anvers, but it depends on what metro line you are using.)
People are very shy about being photographed or stared at, so don’t oogle the women in their national dress, but do get a look at those made in Holland, Dutch wax prints that are famous from Senegal to Kenya. Exit the metro and turn right on the main street, following the rue Poulet (yes, chicken street) to several shops. Most are open by 10:30AM; several open at 9:30AM.
As per tradition, fabric is sold in five metre lengths. Never cut shorter, even if you beg. Costs are fixed for the length not multiplied by five. The least expensive cottons are 15 euros (about $20 for five meters/yards) while the ones shot with gold wax can be $100 for the five meters.
The stores in this area have diverse names such as Little Haiti (who let them in?), African Queen, Beaute Afrique, Waxworks, etc. There are also myriad specialty groceries promising exotic groceries; many beauty parlors and stores selling only wigs and hair extensions and a few street vendors selling knock-off DVDs and designer handbags.
While I wouldn’t go here in the dead of night, it is perfectly safe in the day and is quite near the chic residential areas of Montmartre. Although I paid mostly cash, stores did take plastic.
If you are more traditional or want a wider range of possibilities, you want the district on the south side of the hill that leads up to Sacre Coeur. Exit the metro as described above (Anvers or Barbes) and head up the hill. My route is always exit Anvers and take the rue du Steinkerque, which has many jobbers and fabric stores. When the street dead-ends at the merry-go-round, turn right and shop more, ending up in a giant five story building called Dreyfus (not related to Jerome) and marked Marche St. Pierre.
La Halle St Pierre.
Between the carousel and the Dreyfus building, there are more stores and places offering ‘coupons’ (remnants) on one side of the street and there is the garishly painted Halle Saint Pierre on the other– this houses a museum, clean bathrooms and a great place for a quiche and salad lunch for about 10 euros per person. While not everything is dirt cheap and you do have to figure in the cost of changing money and the dollar/euro ratio, I bought three meters of linen for 23 euros in a remnant store and paid 10 euros for some home decor fabrics. Tassels for cushions were ten euro-cents each.
This is not the kind of adventure for a non-shopping person and there is some stamina required. Also note that on Monday, several of the stores (the most famous is named Reine) do not open until 2pm.
Suzy Gershman has been known as The Born to Shop
Lady for over 25 years while traveling the world and reporting her
series of guidebooks, magazine articles and television spots.Read more Suzy at SuzyGershman.com.