Today's big adventure was a trip to "Les Puces". Now, puces is the French word for "fleas". A couple of hundred years ago when rich French people got fleas and disgarded their infested clothes, the "rag and bone" men who scoured the trash and garbage found them. Then they resold them to poor people in a market in a nasty neighborhood. Eventually, the market cleaned up and is now is an area with a funky section of cheap clothes and shoes and another half with vintage and antique everything.
My friend, Annie, and I spent the morning there checking the place out, but not buying anything. And here's the thing. The prices were really, really high. I was looking for vintage Chanel and Hermes handbags and scarves, and the scarves were more than you'd pay at Neiman Marcus. There was a lot of costume jewelry, some of it great stuff, but just not worth the tariff.
We had lunch with a friend of Annie's who lives here, and we were talking about the economics of fleas. And he said that the prices are just outrageous, and the merchants haven't caught on to the realities of what's happening with their business.
- Tourists used to show up and buy lots of stuff without looking at prices, but no more. They are shopping for fleas because they want a bargain.
- At the same time the merchants are facing reduced sales, a guy bought up a bunch of the stalls and raised the rents.
- Merchants are trying to raise prices to help cover their overhead.
- Some of the stalls have closed, and others are about to, meaning the mean landlord is going to make less money than if he had kept the rents at the original levels.
So they are sort of where a lot of US real estate markets were a while back. Things were changing and a lot of the businesses, including these flea merchants, are not adapting to the changes.