(Re)discover our city: Champagne department stores

Magasin Champagne

(RE)découvrons notre ville: Grands magasins Champagne

Think you know our capital well? Well, let's see about that! Some of the buildings that you walk past on a regular basis have a special story behind them. Dr Robert L. Philippart is a true expert on the subject and will guide you through the city to uncover these hidden stories, making you look at some of our symbolic buildings in a new way.

Champagne department stores at 61, Avenue de la Liberté

Based in Ville Haute since 1876, Jean-Pierre Champagne's "Grand Bazar Champagne" moved in 1903 to the top end of Avenue de la Gare, where the retailer had a warehouse.

In 1906 Jean-Pierre's son, Emile Champagne, turned his father's business into Luxembourg's first department store, in large part thanks to its architecture. The land on which the bazar was to be opened belonged to an entrepreneur named Michel Funck. The plot's perimeter had just been established after an agreement was reached with the State as part of the development of Avenue de la Liberté. Opened to traffic in 1903, the new street had cut the Funck property into two separate lots on either side. This new thoroughfare passed over a 2 m-high embankment. Michel Funck asked his brother, architect Pierre Funck, to build a department store that would connect Avenue de la Gare to Avenue de la Liberté. Pierre Funck was one of Luxembourg City's great architects of the late 19th century, responsible for such iconic buildings as the Casino Bourgeois (today the Casino Luxembourg), the Convict Épiscopal, the Banque Internationale, the Cercle Municipal and the Conrot-Lenoël house. The characteristic department store architecture would not appear in Ville Haute until ten years later.

The Grand Bazaar Champagne opened its new premises on 27 April 1904 and was described as "das grossartigste Geschäft in diesem Genre" – the grandest store of its kind. (Bürger und Beamtenzeitung, 30/04/1904). Accessible from both avenues, the ground floor was characterised by large shop windows in which wares could be displayed at all times. A walkway with overhead lighting connected the two buildings built on the front of both streets. The lighting passed through the roof and a glass dome, providing ventilation for the buildings. Along the Avenue de la Liberté, Funck had erected a two-storey building. The façade comprised the bare supporting structure, embellished with bas-reliefs in the Art Nouveau style. The basement, ground floor and upstairs were all sales floors. A sweeping staircase ushered customers up to the first floor, which was dedicated entirely to toys. This annex featured a flat roof thanks to the highly modern use of concrete and also sported a veranda. The building's cornice featured a balustrade with two vases and two statues, while a large mirror reflected the unparalleled views of the new avenue and the burgeoning Hollerich neighbourhood. A lift and fire hydrants completed the premises. At the time, the shop was said to be worthy of a great capital city, and even a draw for tourists. Its proximity to the station did indeed turn foreign visitors into potential customers. To entice them, Champagne had sets of postcards published that showcased Luxembourg City and Mondorf-les-Bains. This spa town, together with Remich and Echternach, could be reached via the narrow-gauge railways that ran from the station. Boasting a retail area of 900 m2, the Grand Bazar Champagne was a pioneer of department stores in Luxembourg. The new premises meant the store could provide an even wider offering, which now included bicycles and bicycle accessories, electric torches, clocks, footballs, gardening tools, fishing tackle, gramophones, glasses, home textiles, cleaning items, tobacco and pipes, furs, stationery, postcards, religious items, funeral wreaths, china, glassware, cutlery, socks and shoes, sweets, wines, fruit, decor, small items of furniture, carts, prams and high chairs for children. The retailer's marketing strategy was also innovative: advertising played a role, but the store also offered credit sale, introduced free days (paid back with the next purchase), Sunday openings and special rates for resellers, peddlers and associations, and featured well-organised displays and recurring collections. From 1904 onwards, Champagne no longer set up a stand at the Schueberfouer; instead, he organised themed sales weeks, featuring household items purchased in large quantities specifically for the occasion. The company became so successful that Champagne rented the premises of the former Casino de la Gare – today the City Hotel – on the corner of Rue de Strasbourg and Avenue de la Liberté. There he exclusively displayed furniture, for individuals and professionals alike. During this time the store reported having sold 100,000 items, displayed over a total retail area of 1500 m2. Emile Champagne was also active on the social scene, as a member of the Luxembourg Cercle des Philanthropes amateur actor troupe, lieutenant and secretary of the Luxembourg-Gare fire brigade and a member of the "Comité de secours en faveur des orphelins de la guerre” – a rescue committee supporting war orphans – (1915).

On 18 June 1918, the Grand Bazar Champagne was damaged by shrapnel from a bomb launched at the station by the Allies to hinder the German army's advances. Emile Champagne having died a few days before the bombing, his widow Berthe Glesener continued the business until June 1923. She then sold her 510 m2 property with access to both avenues to J. Aach-Sender, who set up his shop selling bedding, household linen and prams there. In 1931, the new owner opened the "passage de la gare", a passageway with 12 shops connecting Avenue de la Gare and Avenue de la Liberté, and raised the building along the latter. The property would later be divided into two lots, one overlooking Avenue de la Liberté and the other Avenue de la Gare.

Picture: Grand Bazar Champagne 1916 in MERSCH François Luxembourg Belle Epoque Guerre et Paix Luxembourg 1978 p147 

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