While travelling around the UK, I started collecting photos and stories of little shop owners. The criteria are simple: they should own a little business and work there.
Dasha planned to visit two bookshops during our day at Berwick: a secondhand bookshop called Slightly Foxed Berwick and this one on the next street. We bought about 27 books during the holiday, so it was quite a planned intention.
The shop's concept is simple: Ben makes a small but fine selection of books for sale each month. Once you come here — you never feel overwhelmed with bursting shelves and endless titles you would never give attention to. Instead, you have a few thoroughly selected items accurately put on the shelves. You check each of those books — a totally different experience after Barter books in Alnwick with endless assortment.
Berwick is located on the coast of the North Sea, so it’s hard to ignore screaming seagulls all of the time. But you get used to that living by the sea; that was the first thing I asked Ben.
Once he saw the pile of books Dasha assembled on the counter — he noted that she has a quite distinctive taste in literature. And advised having a look at The Dolls by Ursula Scavenius. It’s now on our bookshelf. Then we talked, and Ben told us about the store concept, story and a few other books. The shop was about one year old. During our sweet talk, Ben came out to have a wide smile and an addictive laugh.
I met Mark on his shift in a co-owned antique store: each of the co-owners has a specialised corner: vinyl records, homeware, old books, old toys, excavated glass artefacts and other little things. Mark is working Fridays and Saturdays. He has a section on the left from the counter.
I was in a hurry. Dasha was waiting for me outside, while Steve and Alex were waiting for us near the town gates. That's a lot of pressure. But I felt an even harder urge to ask a ton of questions to a guy from the first antique store I entered in my life.
Mark told me that the most memorable thing he encountered while dealing with antiques was an old prosthetic hand — from shoulder to fingers. There was a small nostalgic smile on his face. Another memorable piece was a rare, damaged vinyl record. Some guy brought it with a pile of other things he wanted to peddle. Then guys from the store found out about the rarity of this item. The price could be up to £1000. But because of adhered cardboard on one side, this record went for £500.
We were also talking about antiques from different ends of the world that end up in a town like Alnwick. For example, French people don't tend to be as obsessed with old strange things as British people do. When a French senior dies — relatives would seal the flat and leave it for a long time. The junk inside is not worth the hustle. Then someday, it gets cleaned and sold in bulk to free up space. Mark told me about one of the sellers, who was collecting and trading artefacts of Eastern Europe, the USSR and royal Russia. It was big amazement for me since I grew up with those things lying useless at flea markets.
3. Ross from Pages n’ Pixels in Piece Hall, Halifax
Sunday, 5:15 PM. Most shops at Piece Hall usually start closing at 4:30 PM, and at 5, most doors are closed.
We saw the lonely open door on the second floor while sitting on the other side of the hall. I guessed it was a comic shop we wanted to visit — I was lucky. “People still come in, so I keep it open for a bit more”.
We talked about our favourite comic books. At first, Ross has chosen Watchmen as an ultimate classic. Then we talked about growing up reading comic books and changing tastes: “In my childhood, I was reading mostly Spider-Man, then more adult stuff like V for Vendetta or Watchmen, now I read more sci-fi books”. I felt similar because I had a big pile of Amazing Spider-Mans in my old room at my parents’ house – they were only available comic books in the press shop near our house.
I told him about the Descender series I bought while travelling around the UK for the first time, and he added it to the reading list. Then I asked him again about current favourites — memory sparkled in his eyes. He rushed to the opposite corner of the room and grabbed Something is Killing Kids, a comic book about kids imagining monsters which become real and killing kids, while local Buffy is killing those monsters. I bought it.
We met Jan bearing two benches out of his shop, but he didn’t want any help. “It’s my morning exercise”, — Jan laughs.
There is a sign saying that all thieves will be caught. I instantly asked myself if people steal from places like this, and then I asked Jan — “Yeah, people try to steal stuff from time to time, usually something small. Kleptomaniacs.”
The store itself is a small labyrinth of glass cases and shelves with eclectic objects: jewellery, tin boxes, books, weapons, maps, WW2 magazines, clothing, kitchenware, Kendo fighter statue and a lot of other items I won’t even recognise. I love these shops because you can feel different frozen eras around you.
Jan’s store has a few shelves full of various weapons — from old rusty knives and sables to muskets and rifles behind the counter. One of the shelves had a sign on it: Weapons legally deactivated. “Weapon turns into deactivated antique once no ammo is produced for it. … There must be a lot of weapons in Ukraine right now, hahah”.
5. Eric from Broug's, Hebden Bridge
On Sunday, we were wondering around Hebden Bridge and roamed to this lovely shop. Eric was sitting behind the counter and working in Photoshop on medieval Arabic illustrations on his screen. I remembered how I was restoring old maps the same way and took an interest in what it would be. Eric told me about his new book and how he is processing hundreds of digitalised illustrations. He has already written three books on Islamic design and geometric patterns, and this one was deep in progress.
Then he told me how he and his wife Kalwa opened this place couple of years ago. The shop was full of curious people and looked alive. It was touching to see such a niche place doing great while various businesses around West Yorkshire were closed during Covid. But when one door closes – a new one opens.
Passing by, definitely visit Broug's and check all the little fantastic things on the shelves. My favourites were Japanese iron teapots, Turkish bowls & plates, and French spices tins.