Here's a fun game I was playing with myself as I walked the aisles of BHV for the first time a couple of days ago: "Do they have ____?" I would think of an item, then check out the wall placard on each floor of the grand magasin (department store) on the Rue de Rivoli just behind the Hôtel de Ville of Paris, to see if I could track down its location in the store. And, voilà! It would be there - clothes hangers, wall paint, towels, Chantelle lingerie, door signs to label bathrooms for men or women, electric power tools, cooking supplies, alarm systems, lamps, school supplies, handbags, dinner plates, makeup, sushi. Yes, sushi - shoppers get hungry, right?
There wasn't a thing I could think of that this place didn't carry. It was a Saturday and a sale day, and the whole world seemed to be there, too. BHV, short for Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville, is pronounced "bay-ash-vay" and everyone who lives here for any length of time knows this store, although it is less known to tourists.
It is pretty close to being central Paris's answer to Sear's and Target. There are other places to obtain many of these items but they are not as centrally located or all in one store. Besides, when you ask someone where to find "X," that thing you cannot think of where to possibly locate, the answer invariably comes back, "BHV will have it."
And that's what happened to me. For some reason, I've been losing buttons lately. Two coats and a blouse. It was finally time to try to locate buttons! Good grief. I tried first in retouches, clothing repair shops/tailors. Nope; I just got blank stares and the Gallic shrug. Unlike in New York, I guess if you show up without the actual button you want to have sown on the garment, you are asking for too much to think that they might either have a bowl full of stray buttons or a recommendation of where you can buy one. What I was thinking was that they'd be able to direct me to Paris's button district, assuming that it might be like New York in that way. There's not a button you can't find in New York; it may take a hunt through a few tiny shops, mainly in the Garment District but even on the Upper East Side (like Tender Buttons), but that's all part of the hunt, and the reward is an exact match.
After I had tried three retouches without any luck, I turned to a friend who's lived here a while and asked where the tiny button shops were. She replied, "Why a tiny shop?" I had to explain that it wasn't the size of the shop that was important; rather, it was those New York button boutiques I was thinking of when I asked. She shook her head and said "BHV!"
BHV did indeed have buttons. It had none of the charm of button hunting in New York (not that I'm either a pro at this or have any desire to be, I just was tired of the cold drafts from the missing button locations on those two coats). I quickly found two close-enough matches (who's really going to notice, right?) and got into the checkout line for my 3.90 euro purchase, alongside the customers with slightly larger items in their baskets - like floor lamps, pillows and house paint.