What really makes the Red Wheelbarrow special, though, is the sense of community that surrounds it. I visited one afternoon last month, and while we talked bookselling and drank ginger beer, a constant stream of people entered both the shop and the conversation: there were tourists looking for guidebooks and leaving with a stack of novels; locals paying their daily visit while walking the dog, friends dropping in to catch up on the gossip of the night before (plenty of readings and other events take place here in the evenings). At one point, an American couple appeared, known regulars by virtue of an annual visit during their vacation. Several times Penelope made introductions among her customers and there was the sense of new friendships being made.
While I left with a book—and would have taken a great deal more if I’d had a fatter wallet that day—it’s not the richly stocked shelves that makes the Red Wheelbarrow special, so much as the role it plays in the local community. It’s good to know that there are still bookshops like this, places where ideas are exchanged and lasting friendships are made, where you can while away the afternoon talking even without the assistance of a coffee concession. It’s the kind of place you’d want to exist if you’d just moved to a new town. Ultimately, it’s also a reminder that independent bookshops like The Red Wheelbarrow can have an importance to the community that even outweighs their importance as bookshops. And that’s saying something.
The Red Wheelbarrow, 22, rue St Paul, 75004 Paris. Tel. 01 4804 7508