Glasgow - The West End
- Kirstin Innes
- 16 April 2009
Independent Shopping Guide
Leafy, artistically inclined, fashionable, but not in a corporate way, dear me no, the West End is one of the most beautiful – and thoroughly self–contained – areas of Glasgow. It is fed into by the students of the nearby university – who come for the area’s indie credibility and stay put – by lefty, arty young professionals, local musicians and people who want you to think they’re local musicians, and by rich middle-class families who can actually afford to buy the lofty tenement flats everyone else just rents.
The West End can be something of a rarefied bubble and is often accused of sealing itself off from the ‘real Glasgow’, but the benefits are a strong sense of community. For example, independent bookstore Lost in Fiction set up shop in September last year, and has already established itself as a hub for local readers, supported by many of the well-known authors who live in the area.
Everything pivots off Byres Road, of course. Eclectic indies with artistic window displays thrive in an area that, despite the presence of a Marks and Spencer Food Hall, is vocally resistant to corporate buy out. The shops at the top of the road target themselves squarely at budding Nigellas – classy crafting and homeware at Boxwood, and the foodie-paradise strip of Demijohn’s Glasgow branch, top deli Heart Buchnanan and the Papyrus Cookshop.
However, further down, the shops are a gleeful smorgasbord of inexpensive specialisms: retro sweets at I Love Candy, ethical skincare in Charlotte Naturals, Sandalwood’s jewel-bright display of handcrafted and utterly unusual shoes, the rhinestone froth of girly boutique Pink Poodle, men’s or women’s knicker stores Mr Smith Underpants and Betsy LaBelle (we’ll let you guess which is which), and Chunk T-shirts for hipster geeks at streetwear gaff Zipcode. The window displays at tiny indie florist Grace Flowers are legendary, and do pop into Roots and Fruits for a pound of organic plums and a gentle natter with the scarf-wearing vegan kids at the tills.
Off Byres Road, though, West End shops set up like-minded communities. Cresswell and Ruthven Lane are hidden away: the deCourcy’s Arcade in Cresswell is full of paint-fresh, sweetly twee gift shops and stylish interiors (Elements, Honey Bea’s House and The Studio), while the Ruthven Mews (see "Area focus" below) is a ramshackle vintage goldmine, genuine treasures to be found in the junkpiles.
Down at the bottom, Dumbarton Road is a fierce, exciting hotchpotch of general amenities, punning shop titles (Qualit-tea – you’ll never guess what they sell), junk shops, lone gems such as unassuming vintage trove Handbags and Gladrags and a stretch of the best charity shops in the city. Great Western Road, by contrast, is rapidly turning into yummy mummy territory. Between long-established stores Felix and Oscar (first Orla Kiely stockists in Glasgow) and the first showroom of those local tearaways Timorous Beasties, a crop of glossy gift and interiors stores – many of them promoting the work of high-end local designers – has sprung up, Nancy Smillie, Damselfly and the Queen Bee, and Galletly & Tubbs being the biggest names.
But the area still keeps in touch with its scruffier, student roots: there are well-priced, accessible vintage clothes at Watermelon and some similarly classy items round the corner at Retro, the excellent secondhand bookstores Voltaire and Russo and Caledonia Books, which is very good for Scottish fiction, and emo-kid’s paradise Lupe–go–lightly. Also worth a mention are the huddle of specialist delis around Hyndland Street, and the lovely mix of antiques stores, Futureshock Comics, halal butchers and cafés on Woodlands Road . The West End’s residents may be ripe for ridicule, but they know they’re onto a good thing.
Hayley MacLellan opened vintage-look lingerie boutique Betsy LaBelle at the bottom of Byres Road last year. It’s since become a favourite on Scotland’s burgeoning burlesque scene
‘I used to be a social worker, and I just fancied being surrounded by nice, pretty things for a while, I suppose. I find there’s a really big gap for affordable, vintage-look lingerie in the market in Glasgow. There are the big chains and the boutiques like Boudiche and Agent Provocateur, but they’re all high end, and unless you want to spend £200 on an outfit, you just can’t do it. I didn’t set out just to stock all small, independent designers – originally, I wanted to stock products like the Dita Von Teese Wonderbra, but many of the big designer names quite strictly only supply to big chains or they require large minimum orders, making it really difficult for small businesses to stock them.
‘Given what’s happening just now, I don’t think sales are necessarily an accurate measure of how a business is doing. The reaction from customers is absolutely incredible: they come in and tell me it’s like going in a 50s movie star’s bedroom. People are coming in just to see the inside of the shop, which is really lovely. The shop owners around me at the foot of Byres Road are really supportive, full of community spirit. There’s not one element of competition and if you’re doing well people are genuinely excited.’
www.betsylabelle.co.uk, 0845 8388 457
Area focus: Ruthven Lane
The public outrage online following recent reports that Ruthven Lane’s Mews, a ramshackle collection of ‘units’ housing some of the most distinct indie shops in the city, was to be demolished for office spaces and flats has attracted a lot of attention. The List spoke to Alan Fraser, who with wife Alison Keith has run one of our favourite second-hand and vintage shops, Glorious (formerly the Glory Hole) in the Mews for over a decade.
‘DiMaggios [who run a restaurant in the area] have bought all of our plots, and they have submitted a planning application, but I would be very surprised if we weren’t here in two years’ time. They’ve shown us the new building plans, and explained how much it would cost to rent and buy up a plot. I’ll be honest; I don’t think any of us could afford the increased rent. However, I don’t see them just getting rid of us, not in the current economic situation. There are ten shop plots sitting empty on Byres Road just now.’
As well as Glorious, the Lane is home to the three-decade-old vintage bolthole Starry Starry Night, the magnificent junk-heap of Relics antiques store, Circa Vintage, Play It Again Records and new young design at AG’s. It’s one of the only places where the original bohemian spirit of the West End still seems to linger on, and it’s so unselfconsciously cool that Commes des Garcons asked local shopkeepers if they could open one of their rare guerrilla stores there. As Fraser makes clear, the threat isn’t imminent, but watch that space, folks.