The website for Ofr (pronounced like the individual letters, O-F-R), the Paris-based minichain of bookstores, is rarely updated; the last event listed was back in 2013. The home page reads, “No more time for this website and no more time for phone.” But considering how much Ofr, and its co-founder, Alexandre Thumerelle, are up to, it’s easy to forgive this slightly underdeveloped web presence. The 19-year-old entity (which has three permanent shops in Paris and one in Tokyo) hosts events weekly, including live music, book parties and art openings. And, of course, the shops offer plenty of tangible objects, ranging from small souvenirs to serious indulgences. “We have postcards that are 1 Euro, and expensive photography books that cost, like, €5,000,” says Thumerelle.
Ofr is less like a traditional bookstore and more like a collective with a few different clubhouses, united by a passion for art and community. And Thumerelle’s affection for live music ensures the shops are always generating some kind of beautiful noise. “Last year we organized an event with Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth. Two weeks ago, we did a show for Herman Düne.” But Ofr’s influence goes beyond one-off events. “If people have an idea, we can transform it into a book,” he explains. “Or if they have a book, we can sell and promote it. Ofr stands for Open, Free and Ready. And that’s what we try to be: super available, and capable of transforming an idea into a reality. So we’re open every day of the year, and we have live events two or three times a week, all year long.” If that wasn’t enough, Ofr also has a weekly live radio show, recorded right in the store. “We do a lot of music and interview people around us, sometimes even people in the shop at that moment.”
Thumerelle started Ofr in August 1996 with the help of his sister Marie, who’s three years his junior. “It was sort of my idea—I needed someone I could trust.” But they’ve collaborated in some form since they were teenagers. The siblings produced the first Daft Punk concert in the early ’90s, and they’re close with the band Phoenix, who created music for Thumerelle’s first film, En Route. “Whenever I’d say, ‘I need you,’ she’d be there,” he says. “I’ll be 44 this year and we’ve worked together since I was 16. That’s a lot of years.” Their partnership even extends to real estate: They recently bought a house together in the south of France, which will serve as an artists’ residence. “So if artists in Paris need some air or space, we give them keys and they can stay a week or a month,” he says. “It’s a big house by a river. It’s not trendy at all, but it’s a nice place to produce a show or a book.”
Given how fractured familial relationships can be, it’s a wonder the two have happily worked side by side for so long. “Sometimes there’s huge drama and we think it’s the end of Ofr—it’s happened a few times,” he says. “But we’ve made it through. We’ve been through lots of catastrophes and we’re still super close.” So close, in fact, that he takes care of her baby weekly. “I’m not just an uncle on the phone, or an uncle from time to time. I try to really be important to him.” Thumerelle’s a family man as well—he has three children with his American wife. (“Even with this I don’t speak good English,” he jokes self-deprecatingly.) “I like taking care of kids,” he says. “My two older kids are teenagers now, and we really listen to each other, and it’s wonderful. That’s my biggest success, being close with the kids. It’s not easy, but it’s real.”
While Ofr is a tidy acronym, there’s a deeper meaning to being “open, free and ready,” says Thumerelle. “It’s about being free to build the life you want. Being open, free and ready are the three qualities that make you a happy person, because you’re not just a dreamer,” he explains. “You’re someone who can fight back, and you’re not afraid. You believe in yourself.”