When it comes to bookstores in this city the pickings are rather slim. Since the demise of Borders, Waterstones and Blackwells have been the main purveyors of print in the city centre.* Even though most booklovers are seen clutching a Kindle (or similar lightweight device) these days, we do love the smell of real paper pages. Thankfully two great guys have decided to bring print back to prominence in Leeds…
Ben and Joe are Leeds students turned bookstore owners that, with barely two pennies left to rub together at the end of their degrees, resolved to bring a whole new book buying and chillaxing experience to the balcony level of the Corn Exchange. Amazingly both guys are still holding down jobs elsewhere but just step inside Village for ten minutes and you can see that they clearly know what their doing in what may seem like a niche industry.
They took some time out of their manic day to chat to us about the idea behind Village, why they took a leap of faith in opening up in Leeds and what the people of Leeds’ book buying habits say about them!
Who are you and how did you get here?
We are Ben and Joe from Village Bookstore, a new independent art book, creative magazine and zine store, gallery, coffee shop and publishing house in the Corn Exchange, Leeds.
We first had the idea for Village about 2 years ago. We loved finding new independent publishers and self-published zines online and always wished there was a real physical shop we could get hold of them from. We started out just doing a few stalls at print fairs here and there and at Beacons Festival over the summer. We basically had no money to start with so finding a space to set up was really difficult. We spent months trying to find somewhere that we could afford but still gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to do.
We almost set up in Munro House before The Corn Exchange made us an offer we really couldnt refuse. After that we started roping in the help of some our friends including Andy Kier (Curiosity Allotment) who helped us build some amazing fixtures, and Jay Cover (Nous Vous) who put on a brilliant first exhibition for us and made us loads of great risers for the books. Were really happy with how everythings turned out but theres still loads more we want to do to develop it and keep it evolving as time goes on.
What do you offer that other places in Leeds dont?
Well for a start, most of the publications we sell arent available anywhere else in Leeds so for many were the only place in the North you can get them. We spent a long time handpicking the best work from all over the world so for us every single book, zine and magazine is something were proud to have in the store.
I suppose what sets us out from other places in Leeds is that were aiming to be more than a shop. We want to give back to the Leeds creative community as much as possible by providing a platform for emerging artists to get exposure for their work through publishing and exhibitions.
Village is a quite a unique setup for Leeds. How do you hope your customers will use Village?
We hope that customers will find a great range of inspiring and beautiful printed matter, some of which will be familiar and others not so. The aim of the space is to encourage customers to stay a while and enjoy leafing through a few books. With the dwindling number of independent bookshops left these days we want to preserve that experience of browsing the shelves and discovering something new.
We set the store out and curated the books the way we did to give them plenty of space and allow every book an opportunity to stand out. Well be serving coffee soon too so Village will be a place where people can sit on our sofas with a coffee, look through a few books and take a look at the gallery. Hopefully this will be a nice break from the hectic city centre shops!
Whats your most popular item?
Our most popular zines are definitely the ones by Leeds-based artists, which is encouraging to see. Stuff by Catalogue and Nous Vous does really well. We had a great photo zine by a photographer called Andy Jones that sold out in about a day which was amazing.
Magazine-wise its definitely about the girly mags, Lula and Frankie are insanely popular. But people also really like Kinfolk and Foam which are both brilliant magazines.
Our most popular book so far is I Dont Warna Grow Up by Sean Vegezzi, which was included in The Guardian’s Best Photobooks of 2012. It was published by Fourteen-Nineteen who weve worked with for a while now so its great to see their book doing so well.
Whats your favourite item?
Where to start! Its pretty much torture sitting around all these books all day. Theres loads of stuff we want to buy. The products range in price a lot so theres stuff for everyone.
At the lower end weve got loads of great self-published zines. I think my favourite recently is Yaw Kabe by Dominic Kesterton, a great and really weird risograph comic. Weve got a lot of really great magazines in too, Ben’s had his eye on Adventice for a while now, a really beautiful magazine.
Towards the middle of the price range our favourite is Hired Hand from Vandret publications. Then at the top end Pieter Hugos Theres a Place in Hell for Me and My Friends is definitely on the list – really stark and quite disturbing portraits.
What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?
Leeds has no shortage of great art collectives, independent businesses and projects, all of which are people doing what they do simply because they love doing it.
Theres no sense of pretension about the Leeds creative community and everyone is more than happy to help each other out just to see the community as a whole develop further.
The best thing is it really feels like its only the beginning and we think were going to see some really great stuff coming out of Leeds in the next few years.
Where do you like to hang out in Leeds?
We havent had a day off in absolutely ages, but if we’re not either at the store or at our other jobs well go feed our caffeine addiction at either Laynes or Mrs Athas. Its been a while since weve had a chance to go to the city gallery/Henry Moore Institute and well always check out Mexico if theres something on there.
Ben tends to find himself wandering around Kirkgate Market a lot. Especially on a Monday or Thursday for the second hand market. If we’re going out then we like Whitelocks, Milo, Outlaws Yacht Club, Wharf Chambers for gigs and we cant forget The Brudenell.
What can we expect in the future?
Were running a zine competition with No Culture Icons at the moment to help artists get their zines out there. Were also hoping to help develop the community itself by linking artists and collectives together through collaboration. Were currently working on some pretty exciting projects with No Culture Icons and Manchesters DR.ME, and have loads more lined up.
Finally, describe Village in 3 words…
Books. Plants. Wood.
Village is open 7 days a week on the balcony level of the Corn Exchange