There used to be a few more grands magasins (major department stores) in Paris than there are now. When I first visited long ago, there was even still the Trois Quartiers, a store by Madeleine. It has been through many metamorphoses since then but has never seemed to be commercially successful. There was also the beautiful (from the outside) Samaritaine*, which closed ten years ago for extensive work that everyone understood the need for– frankly, the place was a firetrap with its narrow wooden escalators and crowded floors. At the time, the management said it would rehire everyone after the renovation, but no one believed them. In the end, they fired everyone after paying severance, and the Samaritaine is now supposed to be turning into a much more profitable office and apartment building. We Parisians miss the old place because it was on the Seine, with public access; the rooftop restaurant of the Samaritaine had one of the best views in the city.
The Samaritaine in 2007
Now there are still the four stalwarts, Galeries Lafayette (one of the two or three biggest department stores in Europe), Printemps, the Bon Marché (in spite of its name, which means "cheap," it's one of the more upper-crust ones, not as frequented by tourists and in the heart of the most expensive Paris real estate), and the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville, or BHV, pronounced Bay Ahsh Vay. It's across the street from the Hôtel de Ville–which is the Paris City Hall, not a hotel, as some tourists find out every day!
BHV is especially famous for its quincaillerie or hardware section. That may not sound fun to you, but that's because you haven't been there. When you wander the halls of its fabulous bazaar of brass numbers, hooks, door-fittings and keys, its gardening tools, its classical old French enameled signs, its bells and its birdhouses, I promise you will find something you like and haven't seen before. This is the place Parisians go for hardware if they can't find it in their local neighborhood shop. It also has a great home section where if it's your kind of thing you can browse for tassels or picture frames to your heart's content.
You can download this map of the Marais and the BHV here.
And while you may find Parisians turning up their noses at you for going to "les Galeries" (where the store intercom announcements are made in Russian, Chinese and Arabic, among others, and there are literally bouncers at the Longchamp, Dior and Chanel boutiques), no one in Paris will blame you for loving BHV.
I don't like to go there at Christmas, though. The last time I did, there were so many people that firemen were stationed at the escalators to avoid pileups.
*The elegant Musée Cognacq-Jay was created by the owners of the Samaritaine