18 April 2009

Bolivian Hedgehog Varnish

There used to be tons of regional department stores in the US-- Gimbles and Altman's in NY, Marshall Field in the midwest, Strawbridge and Clothier and Wannamaker's in the Philly area, Belk's and Ivey's in North Carolina, Hecht's in DC-- with stores in downtown locations before malls moved retail to the suburbs.

But the department store was a European invention. Today I introduced Karen to BHV, which I'm pretty sure doesn't stand for bodaciously humongous variety, though it just as well might. The BHV store complex near the Hotel de Ville (Paris' outlandishly lavish city hall) is someplace worth visiting because it's a handy place to pick up some stuff you need, but mostly just because the BHV has everything.

Main store exterior

In the 6 floors of the main BHV store, you can find the usual perfume and makeup and clothing and shoes and accessories. But also hardware (everything from home security systems to motor oil), paper products (stationary, office supplies, as well as books and maps), your standard bath and bedroom stuff like towels and linens and mattresses, but also toilets, sinks, shower systems and vanities, dishes and cookware for the kitchen along with refrigerators and washers and dryers as well as toasters and pressure cookers. You know, everything.

The men's store

Though the hardware section is geared towards the male customer, there's a separate building next door for the BHV homme. Given the extensive inventory at BHV, I'm not entirely clear whether this is a building that carries goods for men or actually sells men. In case the uncommitted male shopper loses interest between the hardware department in the main store and the men's store 50 feet away, there's an outdoor key replication counter to keep him on the right track, a sort of trail of bread crumbs for the gender that doesn't like to ask for directions.

Must be this way...

But even at that, BHV is just a combination of a US department store and a Best Buy or Home Depot. Maybe not so different, really.

Best Buys and Home Depots don't sell wine, though.

An inebriated shopper is an impulse shopper: the BHV wine cave

Or book your travel for you.

The BHV travel agency

And they definitely don't sell motorcycles and scooters (with all the fixin's, of course).

The BHV motor vehicle department

So it wasn't surprising that we left BHV with everything on the list of odds and ends we needed for the apartment: some hand towels, several file folders, a note pad, some little plastic food containers, a spoon, a shower caddy that sticks to the wall with suction cups, etc. It is more surprising that we walked, rather than moto'd, out of BHV only about 40 euros poorer than when we walked in. Credit that to our being hungry and that, despite all of its other merchandise, BHV doesn't have a restaurant.

At least not that we stumbled on. If you know differently, please keep that info to yourself!


  1. They were thoughtful enough to engrave that on the building's exterior (see top photo). If only all acronyms were so clearly defined.

  2. BTW, I don't think BHV has a restaurant, but a few other department stores have cooking classes. I took a "lunch" class at http://www.atelierdeschefs.com
    They have several locations in Paris, including the 15eme (but I didn't go there).