The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Little French in Paris icon

Paris, Dec. 10: Parisians say it is the most beautiful avenue in the world, but these days, a quick stroll down the Champs-Élysées is enough to prove that it is no longer quite the most French.

At number 140, McDonald’s is heaving with lunchtime diners, while across the road at 101, the giant Louis Vuitton flagship store is packed with Oriental handbag-hunters.

An invasion of global high-street names willing to pay rocketing rents has driven out traditional cafés, restaurants and cinemas, threatening to turn the famous landmark into little more than a “banal open-air market”.

That is the warning of a study commissioned on behalf of Paris City Hall by the consultants Clipperton Developpement, which asks, with Gallic grandeur: “Can we risk it turning into an Oxford Street'”

It claims that Paris’s most famous thoroughfare could suffer the fate of its counterpart in London, becoming swamped with downmarket, high-street chain stores, fast food restaurants and sports shops.

Worse than that, it could stop being French.

Wandering down the 10-lane boulevard, it seems the consultants may have a point.

Of the 332 shops on the Champs-Élysées, 102 are clothes stores: not Chanel or Dior or Balenciaga — which prefer grander avenues nearby — but international brands such as Gap and Zara, Nike and Adidas.

However, Bertrand Delanoe, the mayor of Paris, is now considering what can be done to preserve the essential French character of the avenue.

Or, according to a spokesman, its role as “a symbol throughout the world of the Parisian art of living”.

“It’s sad, but true. The Champs-Élysées isn’t what it was,” said an elderly waiter at the George V café, which now fights for business with a Quick hamburger bar. “It’s still a classy place and we’re still very busy, but now there are too many clothes shops and offices, and not so many little cafés and restaurants that used to give the place its atmosphere.”

The cafés and restaurants that remain tend to be shunned by French locals, who refuse to pay up to 7 euros (£5) for a coffee or up to 10 euros for a pastis.

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