Much-loved Paris shopping shrine to become hotel

Fri May 20, 2011 9:36am EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

PARIS (Reuters) - Say "La Samaritaine" in this city and shopping-mad Parisians will wax nostalgic about a beloved department store which once boasted it had "everything."

Now, the monument to retail therapy on the right bank of the Seine which has been closed since 2005, is set to undergo a three-year, 450 million euro ($641.9 million) redesign that will transform it into a luxury hotel, with adjacent buildings housing offices, public apartments, and of course, shops.

With an Art Deco facade and its name proudly displayed in big block letters, La Samaritaine was the most egalitarian of the "grand magasins," or opulent department stores in the French capital, featuring a huge variety of goods for sale from flowers and bathing suits, to candies and hats.

Its doors closed in 2005, however, after the building fell afoul of safety codes and years of wrangling ensued between its current owner, luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH, the city of Paris and the heirs to La Samaritaine's founders.

But the wrangling appears over, the new project has received the green light and construction should begin in early 2012, with a completion date targeted for mid-2014.

Despite the blueprint that promises to restore a Paris landmark building to its full glory, many feel a pang that it will no longer house France's most famous department store.

"It's over, and it's really too bad because you could find everything there," said 88-year-old Genevieve Cotty, who remembers visiting the store with her grandparents before World War II. "They had flowers, tombstones, hardware, furniture. It was really historic."

Its name taken from the water pump at the Pont Neuf in the time of Henry IV, La Samaritaine sits on some of the most prestigious real estate in Paris, close to both the Louvre and Notre Dame and fronting the Seine.   Continued...

<p>France's Samaritaine department store is seen in central Paris, June 10, 2005. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon</p>