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Parisian Businesses Say Lack Of Tourists Can Feel Frustrating

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

August usually marks a mass exodus of Parisians from Paris. And as they flock out, tourists flock in - but not this summer. Europe's borders are closed right now to a number of countries, including the U.S. For Parisians, it's a chance to explore their city in peace. But for many businesses, the lost (ph) of tourists isn't just the loss of an economic lifeline; it's also losing part of what defines the city. Rebecca Rosman reports from Paris.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Lined with open-air cafes and luxury boutiques, the Boulevard Saint-Germain is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Paris. Taxi driver Martine Dupont regularly frequents this street when she's looking for customers. But today, she's been in this taxi line for over an hour waiting for a client.

MARTINE DUPONT: (Through interpreter) It's ridiculous. We're working for nothing - so much waiting time and so few clients.

ROSMAN: Dupont says tourists, especially American tourists, typically make up a sizable chunk of her clientele.

DUPONT: (Through interpreter) They're very generous to taxi drivers, except now there aren't any. Having no tourists is just strange.

ROSMAN: Especially when you consider that Paris welcomed 50 million tourists last year, half of which were from abroad. Americans represented the largest group of visitors outside of Europe.

KAREN REB RUDEL: Seventy-six percent of my clients are Americans.

ROSMAN: Karen Reb Rudel is an American herself. She runs a tour company called Sight Seeker's Delight. Her business had just been picking up after being hurt by the yellow vest protests and a series of subway strikes. Then came the coronavirus.

RUDEL: And it's been absolutely treacherous.

ROSMAN: Rudel is now giving virtual tours online but says there's limits to what you can do.

RUDEL: You can't really do a food tour because that's something - it's just rude. You know, I can't sit here and spread out a bunch of cheese and say, oh, you can't imagine how good this tastes. So I can't, you know, ask them to go try to get those products to relive those experiences. They're just going to have to come back whenever that's possible.

ROSMAN: That probably won't be for a while or at least until the pandemic dies down or there's a vaccine.

Well, this is a sight that you would never see. I'm at the Musee d'Orsay, which is a - one of the most popular museums in Paris. It's an old converted train station known for its impressionist art. And there's no line - no line whatsoever.

Not everyone is complaining about the empty museums and wide-open streets. Pierre Renard and his wife are all smiles as they leave the Musee d'Orsay. The Parisian couple says they'll be doing a staycation this August so they can take advantage of these quiet times.

PIERRE RENARD: It's going to be less crowded in Paris, so it's fine for us. I mean - especially that we shall be here in August so we can profit.

ROSMAN: A short walk away from the museum, Bernard Seguis is finishing up the lunch service at his classic French brasserie, which comes complete with an old zinc counter and red bar stools. Even though business is down by about 50%, Seguis says he's not too worried just yet. The restaurant received a generous government subsidy to keep things afloat. But he misses catering to the usual crowd, a hodgepodge of locals and tourists that fill the wooden interiors and give the space its life.

BERNARD SEGUIS: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "When there's too many tourists, sure, it can be a bit annoying to some," he says. "When there's none - well, that's even more frustrating."

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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