For many locals, a day spent in downtown Bordeaux is synonymous with a shopping trip in the Rue Sainte-Catherine quarter, but if you peel...

Les grands magasins : Bordeaux department stores past and present

For many locals, a day spent in downtown Bordeaux is synonymous with a shopping trip in the Rue Sainte-Catherine quarter, but if you peel away the uniform corporate logos there are some interesting stories to tell.

With this is mind, fellow blogger MystickTroy and I went in search of the department stores of yesteryear with the aim of understanding how strong the influence of the shops of the past continues to be. The account of our quest, which we have jointly published on our respective blogs, starts out at Galeries Lafayette…

Les Dames de France/Galeries Lafayette

The store as seen on old postcards, as first featured on the Commerces Immarcescibles website.
Galeries Lafayette are a seemingly timeless fixture on the shopping landscape of the city and yet, mysteriously, the monogrammed letters on the façades read “DF”! This is because for more than 80 years the building was home to a department store known as “Les Dames de France”. The neo baroque structure was built in 1900 to the plans of architect Ruben Dacosta while the decorative sculptures were designed by Gaston Schnegg. The domes that bookend the building resemble those of the Le Printemps store in Paris.

The store initially belonged to Grands Magasins du Commerce et de l’Industrie (hence the inscription which runs along the Rue Sainte-Catherine façade of the building, pictured above), a limited company which folded in 1902, just a year after the shop opened. Another company, Paris-France, then stepped in and the store, now trading as Les Dames de France, rapidly became successful. Just like the domes, its shopping concept replicated that of the department stores of Paris. The store retained this name until 1985 when it was taken over by Galeries Lafayette.

Traces of the Dames de France name, and the magnificent Naudet & Cie. barometer which can be seen on one corner of the building.
Nouvelles Galeries

A short distance away, the building which is now home to Fnac, H&M, Sephora and Go Sport used to be a Nouvelles Galeries store, affectionately known as “Les Nougas” for many Bordelais. The store originally opened in 1894 and operated until 2000 by which time the merger (in 1991) of its parent company with Galeries Lafayette meant the city wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

To the left, the store as seen on old postcards, as first featured on the Commerces Immarcescibles website.
The gigantic 16,000-square-metre store boasted a number of high-tech innovations including elevators, and served as the blueprint for architect Paul Auscher’s designs for the Félix Potin stores in Paris. In all, Les Nougas stretched from 54 to 58 Rue Sainte-Catherine, as well as extending into the backstreets rue Miqueu, Impasse de la Merci and Rue du Cancera… where still today the words “Grands Magasins des Nouvelles Galeries” can be read on the vintage façade which has been incorporated within a modern residential complex.

Magasin Vert/Le Printemps

We are on Place Gambetta, admiring what remains of the store which many came to associate with Virgin Megastore. The building dates from the latter years of the 19th century, and originally housed Le Magasin Vert (the name a reference to its green shop front), a family-run haberdashery founded by the Chaumette brothers. The shop was originally located at number 15 Place Gambetta before gradually extending around the square and onto Rue Bouffard and Rue des Glacières.

After the First World War, the shop merged with the Printemps department stores. This seasonal name was given to the store which traded as such throughout much of the 20th century until its closure in 1990. Virgin then turned it into the city’s hotspot for CD and VHS enthusiasts until it folded in 2013. The building is now eerily empty…

Marks & Spencer

We are outside the Galeries Lafayette menswear branch which, for five short years from 1996 to 2001, was home to a Marks & Spencer. The British giant had taken over the store from La Redoute, who had moved out to the new Rives d’Arcins shopping mall in Bègles (which opened in 1995).

On average, 11,000 customers shopped at Marks & Spencer every week and throughout its tenure M&S ploughed immense funds into advertising to develop brand loyalty before the purgatory years of work on building the tram network set in. This wasn’t to pay off though because, in the meantime, the parent company decided to fully withdraw from France. The Bordeaux store’s 49 employees heard the unexpected news shortly before opening on Thursday March 29th 2000. To rub salt into the wound, it soon emerged that the press and stock markets were already aware of the announcement! In recent months Marks & Spencer have regained a foothold in France, but have yet to return to Bordeaux.


Our shopping spree ends up outside Tati, previously a Parunis store which was part of the same conglomerate as Les Dames de France (which, you will remember, became Galeries Lafayette). The shop originally opened in 1887, trading as Grand Magasin du Bon Marché, before being taken over by Paris-France in 1903. The store became known as Paris-Bordeaux and later Parunis.

Much of the building was demolished in 1986, resulting in archaeological digs which have been widely documented. The remains of three significant sites were uncovered: the 13th-century Grands Carmes convent (sold and demolished around the time of the French Revolution); a small Roman house dating back to the 1st century AD; and a mithraem (temple dedicated to the god Mithra) complete with remarkable statues. Many of the finds are on display at Musée d’Aquitaine, including the magnificent gothic rosette of the Grands Carmes chapel, and a fragment of stained glass from the convent.

That is where our shopping expedition comes to an end. Thank you for joining us… and a big shout out to Jean-Paul Devienne for green-lighting the use of pictures from old postcards as originally featured on his most excellent website Commerces Immarcescibles.


  1. These buildings sure beat the large surface stuff over at the lake!

    1. Much more thought went into them. These days it's just big warehouses basically...

  2. It's amazing to think how many 'grands magasins' there used to be in our cities. Excellent bilingual research!

    1. And all within a fairly small radius as far as Bordeaux was concerned!