Thousands of Parisians take part in a free walk down the Champs-Élysées | Paris

Thousands of people gathered on the Champs-Élysées for a giant free walk organized by a committee of local merchants and businesses fighting to halt the slow decline of the avenue long known as “the most beautiful avenue in the world.”

Once a favorite promenade of Parisians, the Champs-Élysées has been steadily abandoned by locals in recent years, as popular shops and cinemas give way to upscale shops and the street becomes the preserve of wealthy tourists.

Marc-Antoine Jamet, president of the 180-member Avenue des Champs-Élysées, said: “It’s a way to tell Parisians: Go back to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, to show them that the street is not just for luxury shopping.” The committee that organized this event.

Some 273,000 people applied to take part in “le Grand pique-nique”, with 4,400 people chosen to sit with up to six guests each on a 216-metre-long red and white square picnic blanket, which organizers described as “the largest park in the world”. “. Table cloth”.

Eight partner restaurants – including the venerable Fouquet’s Brasserie, which for decades has been a haven for French film and music stars – served meals for two separate sessions ranging from pork baguettes to Caesar salads, macaroons and spaghetti.

“Thousands of people strolling down one of the most famous streets in the world, within sight of the Arc de Triomphe – this is a true popular and gastronomic celebration,” said the event’s guest of honour, former chef of the Elysée Palace, Guillaume Gomez.

The hikers were excited. “The sky is blue, the sun is out, and we’re sitting in the middle of the Champs-Élysées. We’re very lucky, aren’t we?” Fabien, who flew specially from outside Paris with his wife Michelle, told BFM TV.

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“And the picnic is really nice – I got Ladurée pasta,” said 14-year-old Leo.

Diners enjoy their free food at the event, sitting on the “world’s largest tablecloth.” Photography: Aurelien Morisard/AP

The committee has repeatedly warned that the famous street has “lost its charm” over the past 30 years, falling victim to changing consumer habits and also to crises including the food crisis. yellow vests (“yellow vests”) Protests and the pandemic.

Last year, it transformed the Champs-Élysées into an outdoor mass dictation festival with 1,800 desks placed along it in another exercise aimed at “re-enchanting” Parisians with the street, which has served as the backdrop for countless films.

However, many years have passed since then – as the French-American singer Joe Dassin sang in a famous song in the late 1960s, when the street was at the peak of its popularity – “You’ll find everything you want on the Champs-Élysées.” – Elysee.

The street’s last cinema, the UGC Normandie, which opened in 1937, will close next month, the third to close in recent years amid falling ticket sales and what the UGC described as a “major change” in the demographics of visitors to the Champs-Élysées.

As entertainment venues and book, record and clothing stores have disappeared, they have been steadily replaced by upscale, luxury sporting goods outlets, whose street address retains great attraction – especially for tourists.

French luxury group LVMH – owner of Louis Vuitton and Dior – paid more than €1 billion for its recently acquired flagship store on the Champs-Elysées, according to real estate agents, with surveys showing that up to a quarter of all visits to the boulevard are now dedicated to brand shopping. Luxury.

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The Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Élysées, pictured during a collaboration with artist Yayoi Kusama in January 2023. Photography: Khademian Farzaneh/Abaca/Rex/Shutterstock

Ronan Govil, who has lived off the street for more than 20 years, He told France Info radio“When I was young, we loved to go out [to the cinema] On the heroes. There must have been seven or eight in the street. Now the last one will go.”

Another cinema was recently replaced by a Lacoste sportswear store, Joyville said: “The shops and places that Parisians used to use have been replaced by brands you can find almost anywhere. The Champs-Élysées avenue is losing part of its soul.”

With over 1.3 million people strolling along the street every month Property prices have soared, forcing smaller, independent, less profitable stores and venues to turn back the keys in the face of rents that have risen 15% in the past year alone.

“Real estate speculation is the biggest issue,” said Nicolas Bonnet-Ullage, a member of the Paris council. “The price per square meter is very high. We will have to ask the government to help regulate and restrict rents in this part of the city.

Paris City Hall is working on a €250m (£225m) plan that aims to transform an eight-lane urban highway into an “exceptional park”, but the bulk of the work is not due to start until after this summer’s Olympics.

Some minor improvements were also made to the street before the Olympic Games, with the terraces along its length rearranged and more space allocated for pedestrians.

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On Monday, the Champs-Élysées commission is scheduled to present a 1,800-page report on 150 proposals to reimagine the avenue, with the aim of “directing a more radical and comprehensive transformation” of the neighbourhood, Jamet said.

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