Hobo’s: Down and dirty vintage in the High Street Arcade

Well where to start with this post? I’ve wanted to shoot from the very start of the project. I interviewed Ben, who set up the shop, a few years ago while I was a student and I knew the shop, being the cave of wonders that it is, would make for fantastic photographs – much like Looby Loo’s only down the road.

I mentioned to Ben that I think of Hobo’s as one of the iconic arcade shops, and his smile said it all. When I put it in the same sentence as Spillers, he couldn’t have been happier.

Hobo’s was established in 1991, but only came to Cardiff in 1994, and has been going pretty much strong ever since. Ben says that this current recession matches the one in the early 1990s, and, having a background in economics (he studied third world economics at Uni) he’s not optimistic that things are going to get much better – recession wise anyway – for a long time yet.

As you might imagine, Hobo’s is popular with the student community, so Ben worries that any change in the student finance system will have a knock on effect on his business. When he went to Uni, education was free and there were more grants available. Even when I was at Uni, it was relatively inexpensive, now it’s going to be £9,000 a year, more students might to become a bit more frugal and a new outfit might be furthest from their mind.

On the other hand, Ben reckons you can pick up a whole new outfit for around £35 in the shop – which is what you might pay for a single shirt in somewhere like Topshop, so it’s definitely a good alternative for those feeling pinch.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a place like Hobo’s would fit the trend for all things vintage right now, but Ben reckons that what’s actually in trend right now is a much more sanitised version of vintage. Think pretty teacups, 50s cocktail dresses, Mad Men, you get the picture. You won’t really find any of this stuff in Hobo’s, it’s a much more down and dirty version of vintage, where you might find a 70s teapot (sans flowers) rather than a dainty little china teacup.

In recent times, Ben says there has been much less footfall through the High Street Arcade, but isn’t too concerned. When Primark first opened on Queen Street a few years ago, the sales in Hobo’s plummeted, almost overnight, apparently, but eventually people came back. He reckons the same will happen after St David’s has been open for a bit longer – right now everything is new, shiny and exciting. He’s happy that so many people think of Hobo’s as a destination though. He recounts stories to me of teenagers from the Valleys, Newport and pretty much everywhere telling him they come to Cardiff with Hobo’s their first calling point.

For now at least, Hobo’s is sticking around. It’s clear Ben loves his job, who wouldn’t enjoy chilling out in their own shop being surrounded by what is essentially one big hobby (and listening to some amazing music along the way)? Long may it continue, and let’s hope for a big Hobo’s party for 20 years in 2014…

This was another shoot where I probably outstayed my welcome chatting away… so there’s probably a cavalcade of information that I’ve forgotten to include here… I’ll update if any flashes of inspiration come to me!

Enjoy the photos, don’t worry there’s more over on Flickr if you can’t get enough. As always, feedback very, very much appreciated!


The very well, if a little chaotic, stocked upstairs. I asked Ben if it was OK to take a photo of it to which he very enthusiastically replied that he though it'd make an interesting photo (woo-hoo!). I'm told there's also more in the loft and the basement...

Ben who set up Hobos seems most at home among the piles (and piles) of stock...

Pete, who works in the shop can talk for hours about his big passion - music - so if you've got a couple of hours free, pop in for a chat!

Attempting the staff stairs is very precarious....

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9 thoughts on “Hobo’s: Down and dirty vintage in the High Street Arcade

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