On September 14, 1935, the inauguration of the new department store, Bazar Frances, with its modern establishment took place in the heart of the City of Panama.
The history of the store dates back to 1835, during the times when Colombia was still known as Nueva Granada. The owners were Mr. Lefevre and Mr. Rousse, who had originally dedicated themselves to the importing of goods from Frances, thus the name of the store.
When in 1858, the two gentlemen decided to retire, they brought from France the nephew of Mr. Lefevre, Maximo Heurtemate. Mr. Heurtemate turned out to be a great addition to the firm. Upon his arrival, he immediately became known as a hard worker with a great commercial and marketing vision and with a talent for dealing with customers. His honesty became legend.
The French Bazar located in front of Santa Ana Park in Panama City. Circa 1946
Not long afterwards, his employers sold him the business which he proceeded to expand with locations in Colon, and in Colombia, including the buying and selling of platinum and gold. Eventually, the business became concentrated in Panama city with one store specializing in department store goods from France. The grandson of Mr.. Maximo Huertemate, Roberto Heurtemate became the guiding light of the business generating great and advanced changes culminating in the new location and modern facility.
The new building was constructed on a lot in front of Plaza Santa Ana, where the Hotel Metropole used to be. The store was very spacious and had ample display windows facing Central Avenue. When purchasing any article of any type one could be confident that said item was of the best quality and backed by the well known fame of the French Bazaar.
Because the lot on which the building was constructed sloped from Central Avenue down to the street behind, the building was constructed so as to offer a lower level parking lot for the customers, a novel idea in Panama in those days.
The tailor shop of the Bazar made the finest suits and dresses in the city for the Panamanian society. And to serve the distinguished clientele better, the store was divided into departments specializing in silks, perfumes, shoes, men's clothing, women's dresses, etc.
We could not afford to purchase much from the French Bazaar, but had a good friend of the family, "Memo" Diaz, who worked in the perfume department. When traveling to the city, we would sometimes stop and visit with or buy some little bit of cologne as a gift for some one having a birthday. It was nice to walk in that big place as it was always cool with it extra high ceilings. As a kid, I enjoyed walking down the back stairs to the parking area and then going to the street behind to catch a "chiva" home.
- Luis R. Celerier