Le Jardin de Boucicault is one of more than 500 small parks sprinkled about Paris, each of which contributes to the green soul of this most beautiful of cities. The parks (called “jardins” or gardens), no matter how small, has a play area for children, ample shade trees with benches under them and often a carousel, or merry-go-round, which operates non-stop during fine weather. These little pockets of oxygen are landscaped to the last millimeter, and the gardeners compete to make the prettiest, most gracious spots for people to sit. On any given day, at any given moment, the Jardin de Boucicault (which often wins the first prize for most charming little garden in the city), is filled with people of all ages. Yet, somehow, it never feels crowded.
Monsieur Antoine et Madame Marguerite Boucicault
The Jardin de Boucicault is named for the couple who created Le Bon Marché, the huge department store which rises behind the garden as though to survey and keep it safe. Mr. Antoine et Madame Marguerite Boucicault bought into the Le Bon Marché when it was just a small sundries shop. Each came from humble beginnings which, it might be said, inspired them to be not just good entrepreneurs, but socially minded ones as well.
Entrée Libre – Free Entry
Their most important innovation in the world of commerce was to make Le Bon Marché a shop where anyone could enter and browse (entrée libre). Until they did this (and even until fairly recently), shopping in France was a more exclusive affair. Customers knocked at the door of a shop and if the shopkeeper liked their looks, the door was unlocked. Another key factor to The Boucicault’s success was to make their target customers women who, in Paris, were among the worlds’ most fashionable.
Their gamble worked so well that they built the huge edifice which is now Le Bon Marché, and eventually employed more than 1800 employees, most of them women. Mme. Boucicault insisted they have health insurance, lodging, and eventually shares of the business, unheard of in France until then. She ended up running the shop after both her husband and son passed away and when she died, she left a large portion of her considerable fortune to her employees. The rest went to various charitable organizations.
The Boucicault’s spirit of generosity and social justice persists at the garden, witnessed by a monument to the neighborhood’s Jewish children who disappeared during World War II, and to the regular ceremonies commemorating the Shoah which take place among the shade trees and colorful flower beds there.
The Jardin de Boucicault is a haven in any weather, a little world where ponies give languid rides, toddlers giggle as they slide and climb, people read, nibble, sip, or converse. And sometimes, occasionally, someone is there to collect the vibrant leaves that drift to the perfectly manicured patches of grass. I have found these leaves perfect to decorate a table; once dried they hold their color, to be brought out at any time of year. I thought I was the only person to discover these leaves free for the taking until the last time I went to gather a small handful. I rounded a corner to find that the gentleman I thought was there to read his paper was doing exactly the same thing I was, and that he had taken the leaf I’d spied from afar. It was all in the spirit of the Boucicault’s sense of social justice – first come, first served!