Glasgow - The West End

Betsy LaBelle

Retro undies at betsy LaBelle

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.

Shop Talk

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.

A Pink Poodle
181–183 Byres Road, Glasgow, G12 8TS
Frothy, fizzy wee boutique specialising in independent designers like Motel, Yumi, Mina and Numph. They're great for handbags, sparkly girly jewellery and the sort of young, off-beat and off-high street fashion that doesn't take itself too seriously.
B The Studio
De Courcy's Arcade, 5 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow, G12 8AA
Classy curios and antiques for your bohemian home. Everything is specially chosen, and there's a nice selection of Art Deco vases and light fittings.
C Honey Bea's House
Cresswell Lane Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8AA
Little sister to Kelvinbridge institution Felix and Oscar, and an essential stop for trendy WEndies hunting Cath Kidston chintz or Orla Kiely handbags. They also do nice lines in tongue-in-cheek pressies, Alessi kitchenware, and non-cutesy kids' fashion.
D Elements
De Courcy's Arcade, 5–21 Cresswell Lane, Glasgow, G12 8AA
Brightly coloured, crammed full of gifts, cards, candles and cutesy, sparkly, proddable 'stuff', Elements is the sort of store that sums up the Cresswell Lane shopping development. Designed for yummy mummies with a sense of humour. Prices range from £2…
E Boxwood
388 Byres Rd, Glasgow, G12 8AR
Relaxed, rustic charm for stylish houses, with a New England or Scandinavian feel. Inside, you'll find lovely local design, organic babyware and an expert picture framing service.
F Papyrus
374 Byres Road, Glasgow, G12 8AR
Offbeat gifts, homeware and handbags; grab everything from a punk rock rubber duck to a set of Scots language mugs here. Head downstairs in the Byres Road branch for the Papyrus Cookstore, a well-stocked treasure trove of kitchen accessories and recipe…
G Voltaire & Rousseau
12–14 Otago Lane, Glasgow, G12 8PB
A silent, dusty, temple to the pleasures of reading, Voltaire and Rousseau represents second hand book-shopping in its most perfect form. Piles upon piles upon piles of books, arranged in only the vaguest semblance of order, spill out from the shelves…
H Felix and Oscar
459 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G12 8HH
Eked out inside a beautiful old building by Kelvinbridge, this densely-stocked store is the absolute first stop for trendy WEndies hunting Cath Kidston chintz or Orla Kiely handbags. They also do nice lines in tongue-in-cheek pressies, Alessi…
I Galletly & Tubbs
431 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9JA
Interiors, furniture, wall-hangings, vegan handbags, candles and art deco birthday cards. Oh, and jewellery, Christmas decorations, ceramics, soft furnishings and the occasional ashtray shaped like Chairman Mao's head. The fully comprehensive range of…

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