The Rebirth of La Samaritaine, an Iconic Parisian Department Store

The renovated Art-Nouveau facade of La Samaritaine department store on Rue de la Monnaie, Paris (Image: DFS Group/Matthieu Salvaing)
The renovated Art-Nouveau facade of La Samaritaine department store on Rue de la Monnaie, Paris (Image: DFS Group/Matthieu Salvaing)

When news hit in 2005 that one of Paris’ historic department stores was being shuttered, locals reacted with understandable sadness and dismay.

After all, since 1869, La Samaritaine– with its boldly-lettered Art Nouveau facade looming over the Seine River and the Pont Neuf bridge– had been a reliable fixture in the city landscape. Nay. It was a positively iconic one.

But due to major building safety concerns and some dubious business decisions, the nineteenth-century store so dear to many Parisians closed its doors in 2005.

Related: Conjuring up Belle-Epoque Paris in the Grands Boulevards District

At first, it was semi-eulogized. Would it be razed to the ground and give way to some sleek 21st-century mall or high-end hotel? Quelle horreur.

Luxury-goods behemoth LVMH wholly acquired the site in 2010, driving fears that its fate might be just that. This struck some as rather ironic, since the Samaritaine had never been a store catering to the very-wealthy.

It opened its doors at the dawn of a new industrial era that saw the price of consumer goods drop, and “fineries” become accessible to larger tranches of the population.

It was, according to social historians, a store targeting the growing working and middle classes of the nineteenth century.

La Samaritaine, circa 1905. Public domain
Rue du Pont Neuf and La Samaritaine, circa 1905. Public domain.

The department store was often aspirational for its customers, to be sure. But unlike its posher Parisian counterparts, Le Bon Marché and Galeries Lafayette, it tended to serve a more modest clientele.

Now that it had been taken over by the owners of Louis Vuitton and countless other high-end brands, would it be remade in the image of the luxury industry– and thus become out of reach for the average citizen?

The “New Samaritaine” with its restored facades, revamped interiors and shopping concept opened in June 2021. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

The answer is a bit complex. It turns out that LVMH gave in to a reigning local desire to preserve the historic building’s legacy. The fact that the building itself is a listed historic monument also helped keep the pressure on, no doubt.

See Related: A Look Inside the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a New Temple to Contemporary Art

At the same time, it does seem safe to say that the historic department store has been reborn as an ultra-luxury hub in the city center.

The New Samaritaine: Excitement & Controversy

Women’s designer fashion at the Pont Neuf site of the New Samaritaine. Image: Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

Fifteen years after its closure, La Samaritaine has risen from its proverbial ashes, re-opening in June 2021 after an extensive revamp– and significant delays due to the global pandemic.

The two buildings making up the site (called Pont Neuf and Rivoli, respectively) host a large department store of the same name, in line with its heritage. The shopping concept is decidedly luxury-focused, with a dizzying selection of designer brands and artisanal products, from women’s and men’s fashion and accessories to luxury beauty and perfumery, jewelry and watches, home design and gadgets. For those interested in fashion-forward style and trends, the Designer Lab at the Rivoli site should prove appealing.

Designer Lab at the Rivoli site/Samaritaine/DFS Group

The re-opening also saw the inauguration of a new palace hotel from the 5-star Cheval Blanc group on its premises, significantly upping the high-luxe ante. There’s also a Cinq Mondes spa, personal shopping services in a swanky space called “L’Appartement”, beauty studio, concierge and other high-end services. Finally, you’ll find a selection of formal restaurants and casual dining options onsite (see below).

{More info on navigating the new store and its departments: You can see a complete guide to the department store, its layout, current brands and services at the official website. You can also download and save or print a store guide in English at this page.}

Detail of the restored Art Nouveau murals beneath the glass “verrière” at the Pont-Neuf site/Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

The redesign was awarded to Japanese architectural firm Sanaa, whose renovation efforts aim to blend the building’s historic art nouveau and art deco elements with contemporary features and touches.

The original building is incorporated in the design, with the grand staircase and breathtaking glass-topped atrium, or “Verrière“, restored to their former glory. The iconic facade has also been brought back to life, thanks to the efforts.

Dining & Restaurants

There are several dining options at the New Samaritaine, both formal and casual.

At the Pont-Neuf site, the Voyage restaurant offers semi-open seating under the magnificent glass rooftop, and you can admire the restored murals and decor from your seat. Chefs with Michelin-starred credentials offer seasonal menus and an extensve wine menu. Reservations are recommended.

Across the way at the Rivoli site, Ernest is a bakery and casual eatery with a more formal upstairs restaurant serving typical French bistrot fare and continental cuisine. I dined there in 2021, and found the lunch menu to offer decent quality for money. The food wasn’t remarkable, but it was flavorful and fresh, and the service was friendly and quick.

A salmon lunch dish from Ernest restaurant at La Samaritaine Rivoli. Courtney Traub/All rights reserved

Downstairs, the Ernest bakery and patisserie with bread and other creations from famed baker Eric Kayser offers a variety of sandwiches, snacks and sweet creations.

The Ernest bakery at the Samaritaine Rivoli site/DFS

For a full list of restaurants, eateries and dining options at the Samaritaine, see this page.

The Road to Local Acceptance

Given how knee-jerk Parisian conservatism tends to give way to openness and excitement towards the new, I suspect that the city’s denizens will soon wholly embrace “La Nouvelle Samaritaine” as a welcome return.

After all, both the Eiffel Tower and the Centre Georges Pompidou were initially the subject of much hand-wringing and, well, open loathing when they were first unveiled.

Now they’re so accepted that they’re almost seen as a “natural” part of the urban landscape.

While not everyone– or even most– will be able to afford much of what’s on offer inside, a stroll inside to admire the architecture and browse the store’s seemingly endless departments is free, and can be intoxicating. And grabbing a pastry and coffee at one of the store’s more casual eateries or bakeries is still largely accessible– a treat worth having.

A Bit of History– & Why to Visit

An early 20th-century postcard drawing of La Samaritaine/Public domain
An early 20th-century postcard drawing of La Samaritaine/Public domain

The original store was opened by business magnate Ernest Cognacq in 1870, and designed by architects Frantz Jourdain and Henri Sauvage.

Many of the building’s iconic Art Nouveau and Art-Deco style elements– from the elaborate painted lettering, floral motifs and glass elements gracing the facade to the airy glass atrium held together with metal beams– only appeared during early-20th century expansions and redesigns.

Related: Inside Le Train Bleu, One of the Most Beautiful Restaurants in Paris

The store quickly became popular among Parisians for its slogan, “On trouve tout à la Samaritaine” (One can find everything at La Samaritaine“.

It drew status-conscious passers-by in with its glamorous promise of fineries sold at relatively reasonable prices.

By the 20th century, there were 11 stores and a “luxury” branch that has since closed.

Even today, there’s something about standing on the Pont-Neuf at sunset and taking in the facade, which seems to glow and reflects the light and water.

It’s an easy stop after visiting nearby monuments and attractions such as the Louvre, and can be an excellent stop on a self-guided tour of Paris’ most-beautiful bridges.

Related: The 10 Best Things to Do in Paris on a First Visit

Location & Getting There

The Samaritaine is located on the right bank of the Seine, in close reach of the city center and facing the Pont Neuf.

The closest Metro station is Pont Neuf, but you can also exit at the Chatelet station (a major hub) and walk for about five to ten minutes.

  • Address: 19 Rue de la Monnaie, 75001 Paris (1st arrondissement)
  • Metro: Pont Neuf (Line 7) or Chatelet-Les-Halles (Lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14)
  • Tel: +33 1 56 81 28 40

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An inside look at the New Samaritaine department store in Paris, France/Pinterest image by Paris Unlocked

6 thoughts on “The Rebirth of La Samaritaine, an Iconic Parisian Department Store

  1. Shopped there for a few hours with my then 10 yr old daughter in April 2000 and still have the black jacket I bought there that day. Am so excited to visit the rebirth and shop there again. So happy for Paris!

  2. In my next visit I will be at Samaritano where I bought in 1965 many good things. Happy to know it is open.
    Mac Haribhai Chicago

  3. Took my children up the rickety old escalator when they were little and lunched on the rooftop. They have remembered the occasion!

  4. I was there in September and it is truly remarkable . The ironworks, the walls are stunning. It is fascinating and everyone should take a look. Also, some of the displays are magnificent and clever. But, it is also extremely high end. I shop at Galleries Lafayette and Bon Marche and could not find anything in my spending bracket.

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