I owe a lot to Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. She was out visiting one day near the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) when her horses went mad and she was rescued by a certain M. Ruel. The empress rewarded her savior generously, and with the investment a store was born. More than 150 years later, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville is still the place to go for your everyday household needs. From fashion to fragrance, from shower curtains to shutters, the BHV carries just about everything. Including the kitchen sink.
My favorite floor is the basement: an entire city block dedicated to the fine world of hardware. If there is anything you want to build, this is the place to head. You can get everything you need to construct and furnish your dream château, and a custom-made enamel plaque to hang by the door. You’ll even find lambskin and all the supplies you could possibly need to make your own pair of shoes or a chic new belt. Has your cow lost its bell? You’ll spot a new one to the right, just behind the bathroom ventilators. And because this is Paris, they have stylish leather tool cases in bubble gum pink, lemon yellow and sky blue.
If I ever come up for air, I head to the art-supply department, where I can dream before wooden easels, stretched canvas and brushes made from sable, squirrel, hog, camel, ox, pony or goat. As I head toward the door I go by the fine art catalogues and comic books, beyond French pop and into their stationery section.
I’d love to head upstairs, where Le Creuset, Emile Henry and Laguiole complete the offerings of Christofle and Le Jacquard Français for the perfectly stocked French kitchen, but my kitchen is Parisian and I have no more room. Not even for that incredibly cheap and terribly cute fondue set I’d never use anyway.
Like any department store, the BHV has a full offering of clothing, including a rainbow of scarves, hundreds of kinds of stockings and all the sexy lingerie a French woman requires, as well as the uniquely Parisian brands you may not find at home, like Vanessa Bruno, Sandro and Zadig et Voltaire.
It is said that men hate shopping, but if you don’t lose him in the hardware store, you can always treat your man, or any man, to a shave and a haircut at the traditional barber shop in the BHV Homme store across the street. He’ll be so entranced with the vertical garden growing up the wall that he won’t even notice he has entered another store. And if you’re really lucky, he won’t notice that you’ve got enough bags to fill a store of your own.