Jennifer Lee O'Brien
One day, Ben Holmes and Joe Torr were talking about how they wanted an independent magazine and bookshop to exist in Leeds, so they decided to open one. They called it Village.
“Leeds’ creative community has grown quite rapidly in a short space of time, so it’s like a little bit of an open frontier,” says Ben. “I think that’s how the majority of independent businesses in Leeds have started: people giving it a go.”
Village began at University. Ben and Joe were living together; on evenings and weekends, they would talk about photography and art, and how frustrating it was to have to go to London or Manchester to buy an independently published book or zine about photography and art.
“It was all about having the physicality of these things within reach and accessible to everyone,” says Ben. “When we graduated we didn’t have an excuse not to give it a try.”
That physicality of things meant having a physical shop. But opening a shop is expensive, and they weren’t sure if it would work. So Ben and Joe started selling books and zines at book fairs and at festivals like Beacons. People were interested, or at the very least, curious.
“Obviously the idea of selling zines at a festival is a bit strange, especially in Britain where it’s raining all the time,” says Ben, laughing. “But it was great chatting to people.”
In the meantime Ben and Joe were working, trying to save up money for the shop they wanted to exist in Leeds. One day, they heard a rumour: the Corn Exchange were looking for new, independent shops to fill their empty spaces. The rumour — “a happy coincidence,” says Ben — turned out to be true, so Ben and Joe signed a lease.
“Our policy seems to be to decide to do something and figure out if it’s possible later,” says Ben. “We decided we’d open the bookshop and build the fixtures ourselves with the help of our friend Andy Keir from Curiosity Allotment.
“We were absolutely terrified it was all going to be a complete failure; we were still sanding and putting the finishing touches on the morning of the opening.”
In December 2012, just five days before Christmas, Ben and Joe opened their magazine and book shop. They called it Village.
“The idea of Village is supposed to evoke a sense of community,” says Ben. “It’s all about friends, or people coming in and having a chat, having a coffee.”
For the coffee, Ben asked advice of Dave Olejnik, owner of Laynes Espresso. Dave wanted to see something like Village exist too, so he offered to train Ben and Joe for free.
“I just approached him and said we want to serve coffee in the shop. He wasn’t worried about the fact that he was helping set up another coffee shop around the corner,” says Ben.
“There’s so much collaboration going on in Leeds. If you’ve got an idea people are always happy to help just because they want to see it done.”
Collaboration was one of the incentives for Ben and Joe to decide to move their book shop to Thornton’s Arcade. By sharing a corridor with businesses like Tall Boys, Chimp, Welcome and OK Comics, Village would be joining a community of independent businesses that are happy to see each other exist, and thrive.
“The independents are what gives the city its personality, its character. And the arcades are a really important part of strengthening that identity,” says Ben. “For us it was just great to join the other shops on that arcade and be part of that mini community.”
He laughs. “Again it was one of those, do it and figure out if its possible later. We’re still working on the upstairs bit; it’s going to be our gallery space.”
One of the founding ideas for Village is that print isn’t dead.
“I know people say that all the time but it’s a good little phrase,” says Ben. “I’ve never really felt it’s been difficult to convince people of the idea that print still has a place; I think the more digitised the world gets, the more people value having that physicality of a book.
“One of the beautiful things about the internet is you can get your work seen by millions of people, but at the same time they’re seeing work by millions of other people. Producing a physical book slows people down. And they’re not just looking at it; they’re touching it, they’re smelling it.
“That’s something I think digital is never going to be able to replicate.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion