French NYC residents fight for city to have a ‘Little Paris’ downtown

They’re at the merci of the neighborhood.

Two French expats are fighting to rename a Nolita block “Little Paris Street” ahead of Bastille Day on July 14.

Cousins Marianne and Léa Perret, who founded Coucou — a cultural center that offers French classes and workshops and hosts parties for Francophiles — are petitioning to get the section of Centre Street between Broome and Grand streets the chic, new designation.

“Northwest of Little Italy is a hub of French businesses — boutiques, cafes, restaurants. And yet real estate agents have named the area ‘NOLITA,’ or, ‘North of Little Italy,’ ” reads the petition, which has garnered 600 signatures so far.

And so they’re plastering the area with dark-blue-and-green enamel street signs, custom-made in France, to promote their cause. The cousins, who both live in Bushwick, said the signage took a month to make — and Léa shelled out $2,000 from her own pocket for them.

There are smaller ones for planters, as well as larger ones affixed to the facades of “enthusiastic” nearby businesses.

Léa Perret, co-founder of Coucou French Classes
Léa Perret, co-founder of Coucou French Classes, is putting up custom-made signs all over her Nolita nabe.
Stefano Giovannini

They argue that the area has a strong French connection: In addition to historical ties to French culture dating back to the Revolutionary War, it’s currently the epicenter of about a dozen or so French-owned neighborhood businesses, including Maman cafe, Compagnie Des Vins Surnaturels wine bar and a modern art gallery and shop called Clic.

While their immediate goal is to rename the street, the cousins hope to one day rebrand Nolita “Little Paris.”

Léa, 35, originally from Toulouse, France, told The Post that “Nolita” is “not doing the neighborhood justice.”

Map of proposed “Little Paris Street,” awash in French-owned businesses.
Credit: Coucou French Classes

“We don’t want to take away from the importance of the Italian-American community, but the French were always there from the beginning,” said Marianne, 34, a native of Paris. “We’re not taking on their territory — we just want to be recognized.”

Marianne started to research the history of the area, noting a historical “Little France” or “Quartier Francais” in Soho from the 1870s to 1890s, just west of Coucou. Nearby, a hill known as Bayard’s Mount — named after French-American banker and Alexander Hamilton pal William Bayard — served as a fort during the Revolutionary War.

She also points to the imposing former police headquarters at 240 Centre St., now a luxury co-op. Modeled after Paris’ Hôtel de Ville, its arresting Beaux Arts style is a love letter to Parisian architecture. 

“All these interesting details fueled our case,” said Marianne.

Léa told The Post that Community Board 2 asked the women to produce a petition from residents — not just businesses — but didn’t give an exact number for required signatures.

The City Council, which oversees street renamings, did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.

Montrealer Elisa Marshall, who has run Maman cafe with her French expat husband Ben Sormonte on Centre Street since 2014, backs the street renaming push.

Maman owners Elisa Marshall and Ben Sormonte
Maman owners Elisa Marshall and Ben Sormonte say the city deserves an official “French pocket.”
Stefano Giovannini

“The vibe of that little section, with the beauty of the police building, the trees and the hub of French businesses, you don’t feel like you’re in NYC — it feels like you escaped to Paris,” she said.

She mused that Little Italy and Chinatown have their own distinct spots, “but there’s no French pocket. Having it recognized as Little Paris makes it more special, with that additional allure for customers and business owners.”

Like the Statue of Liberty, supporters hope “Little Paris” becomes a symbol of good will between the two nations.

Léa Perret at a French cafe on Centre Street.
Léa Perret and her cousin are trying to get a stretch of Centre Street in Nolita co-named Little Paris Street.
Stefano Giovannini

“The connection between Paris and New York is so strong — the two cities have so much respect for each other,” said Marianne. “There’s a long love story between New Yorkers and French. But there’s not a place yet that’s clearly defined.”

And she doesn’t expect a culture war — or a food fight — with their Italian neighbors: “Unless we have a cheese-off.”

Living | New York Post

Related Post: