Booksellers in Paris have hit out at plans to “hide” them during the 2024 Olympics, after they were told by local authorities to remove their stalls for the opening ceremony for security reasons.

The bouquinistes along the River Seine make up the largest open-air book market in Europe and represent a 400-year-old tradition. However, about 570 of the stalls, which make up about 60 percent of the total along the river, need to be dismantled and moved, according to city authorities, for the opening ceremony on 26 July next year.

Bookstalls on the quays of the Seine, 1931.

Police told the booksellers earlier this week their stalls are within the perimeter of protection for the ceremony and must be removed for “obvious security reasons”. But the booksellers argue the move threatens to erase a symbol of the city, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Jerome Callais, president of the Paris booksellers association, told the news agency: “People come to see us like they come to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, [but] they want to hide us during a ceremony that is supposed to represent Paris.”

Paris 2024 organizers expect at least 600,000 people to attend the opening ceremony on the Seine, during which athletes and delegations will sail along the river—the first time the ceremony has been held outside a stadium—and that the public will have free access to it.

The French government is making plans to ensure the security of the event, for which 35,000 security agents and the military will be deployed.

But Albert Abid said he felt he and his fellow booksellers were being excluded from the celebrations, and was concerned his 100-year-old wooden stall would be damaged in the process.

Bookseller Albert Abid worries that moving the stalls will damage both the stands and the sellers’ morale.

He said: “[They] are very fragile … our stalls will not be able to withstand this operation, nor will the morale of the booksellers.”

The Paris authorities said in a statement that they met the booksellers earlier this month and offered to pay for the costs of removing the stalls and to pay for any repair work in the event of damage in what they called a “renovation”.

“People come to see us like they come to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, [but] they want to hide us during a ceremony that is supposed to represent Paris.”

“This renovation is part of the Games’ heritage and will help support the application to have the Seine booksellers recognized as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco,” the authorities said.

Parisians peruse the bookstalls, 1913.

It was not clear whether the booksellers had been told they must move for the duration of the Games or only for the opening ceremony.

But the city has invited them to move to a specially created “bookseller village” in a “literary neighborhood near to the Seine” for the duration of the 33rd Olympiad between 26 July and 11 August.

However, Callais said the proposed location of Bastille square was not a realistic solution and no other compensation had been proposed.

“No one is going to go to that market,” he said.

Despite frequent bans by various French kings, bouquinistes have been selling texts along the Seine since the 16th century, originally from handcarts, voluminous pockets and trestle tables.

Jerome Callais, president of the Paris booksellers association, is working to get the bouquinistes recognized by UNESCO.

In 1891, having survived an attempt at outright banishment by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the architect of modern Paris, they won permission to display and store their books in their boxes.

The bouquinistes were hard hit during Covid lockdowns. “The culmination of three disastrous years,” Callais told The Guardian in December 2020. “First the gilets jaunes and their protests. Then the transport strikes … And now Covid: travel bans, lockdowns, curfews. In financial terms, a catastrophe.”

Sellers pay no rent, but must undertake to open at least four days a week and to “exercise the profession of bookseller” – selling mostly secondhand books, magazines, documents and prints, although one of their four boxes may also offer ephemera and trinkets.

Nadeem Badshah is a freelance journalist