By Silvia Aloisi
PARIS (Reuters) – Luxury goods group LVMH unveiled on Monday the revamped La Samaritaine, a 150-year-old department store designed to help it grab a greater slice of tourist spending once pandemic travel curbs are eased.
After a seven-year makeover, the historic store will reopen to the public on June 23 and rival the likes of Galeries Lafayette, housing a hotel, restaurants and shops. Its reopening, originally scheduled for last year, was delayed by the coronavirus emergency.
With contagion rates falling in most of Europe, France began to lift restrictions in mid-May but foreign travellers, particularly non-Europeans, are still largely absent.
Spending by visitors to France remains a major source of income for high-end brands, even if Chinese shoppers, the industry’s number one clientele, have been buying a lot more at home during the pandemic – a shift expected to outlast the health emergency.
LVMH, behind fashion and accessories labels like Louis Vuitton, makes 8% of its 45 billion euros sales in France alone, and already owns upmarket Parisian department store Le Bon Marche.
Its latest venture, with 20,000 square meters of shopping space, sits on the banks of the Seine, close to tourist magnets like Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre museum.
La Samaritaine is famed for its 1920-era building and gilded Art Deco facade but the revamped store will include a 100-metre airport-style moving walkway through a tunnel to nearby parking.
Facing competition from online retailers, department stores were seeking to reinvent themselves as day-trip destinations even before the COVID 19 pandemic. The crisis has forced several prestigious U.S. names to file for bankruptcy.
Eleonore de Boysson, the Europe and Middle East head of DFS Group – a retail and duty free company majority owned by LVMH which runs the department store – said it may take one or two years for tourists to return en masse to France. La Samaritaine expects around 5 million visitors a year when things go back to normal.
“We wanted to reopen at a time when life is starting to come back,” she said.
The store will host 600 brands, of which 50 exclusively, and offer shoppers a wide range of prices.
It hopes to rival peers like Qatari-controlled Printemps and family-owned Galeries Lafayette. Some 37 million shoppers visit the latter’s main store in Paris every year.
LVMH, which first snapped up a stake in La Samaritaine in 2001, has spent 750 million euros on its makeover, which includes a contemporary, undulating glass exterior on one side by Japanese architectural duo SANAA.
The store had to shut its doors in 2005 as its original glass flooring was not sufficiently fire-resistant.
The complex will include a luxury rooftop hotel and be home to 96 flats under a social housing scheme.
(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)