Offices around the world: 100
Arthur Gerbi doesn’t like the “c” word. The owner of Merci, Paris’s must-visit emporium, says, “The phrase ‘concept store’ doesn’t mean anything anymore.” He adds that, today, most shops could brand themselves with the “concept” label. What he’s aiming to do now is offer customers what he describes as a “moment”. “We intend Merci to be somewhere you want to visit,” he says. “A website or a photo on Instagram will never give you what you experience here.”
An expansive shop spread over three floors, Merci primarily sells clothing and homeware, though that’s only half the story: there’s also a hardware store, a canteen and a cosy café with a secondhand book shop. “I like to think of Merci as what Americans call a ‘general store’,” he says.
In more ways than the c-word, Merci is a business in transition. Opened in 2009 by Bernard and Marie-France Cohen, the shop was an immediate hit among Parisians and notably donated its profits to charities in Madagascar. After the Gerbi family bought the shop four years ago, Arthur wanted to keep the spirit of the shop alive while also making sure they didn’t remain static (he says that Merci still invests in charities, though not all of its profits are now given away; some are invested back into the business). He has also started experimenting with other designers, lines and exhibits; he’s excited to try out new things.
As such, Merci’s stock can seem eclectic. But it’s a purposeful contrast to the slick retailers that are ubiquitous in today’s major cities, with spaces and products that all resemble one another. “New York is really scary now in terms of retail – nothing is new,” says Gerbi. “There’s no more creativity, there are no accidents.”
Those successful accidents not only require the taking of risks but also putting together a team like Gerbi’s: imaginative and up for trying out new things. “The whole group is like a kibbutz,” he says. “We think of the store as an everlasting project.”