Guest post on We Are Cardiff

I was asked to write a piece for the excellent storytelling website We Are Cardiff before I even had the idea to do an arcades project. The project is part of local arts group hack/flash and showcases stories from the people of Cardiff along with a super photograph.

I had my photograph taken by the excellent Adam Chard before the notion even entered my head.

What you are looking at in that photograph is probably a different person. I’ve met so many fantastic people, done so many things and had an unbelievable time in just a few short weeks. The words for the post were written just after I’d embarked on the project, I was yet to meet many of those people, yet to be overwhelmed by the positive response I have received so far.

Long may that continue.

Click the picture to read more of my story, you can find out why I love Cardiff, why I came here in the first place, and why I’m sure I’ll be sticking around for a long while yet.

Celtic Cakes – fairytale cakes in the Castle Arcade

I’m a cake-lover. There, I said it – that wasn’t so bad was it? Well actually, if you know me at all it shouldn’t come as any surprise because before I embarked on this all-consuming arcades project I had a baking blog, which I’m ashamed to say I just haven’t had time to update of late.

It was nice therefore to get the chance to photograph my first love, baked goods, from the lovely Celtic Cakes in the
Castle Arcade.

I’ve often walked past the window of Celtic and gazed adoringly at the amazingly crafted sculptures adorning their cakes, things like dragons, lilies and all manner of things beside. All things that despite my passion for baking I know I’d probably never be able to master.

Owned by Ann, who I met for a chat the other day, and her husband, it is the pair that make all the cakes themselves. For the most part, Ann makes the cakes, while her husband is the man responsible for the decoration, although she did admit to trying some of the “simpler” designs. What she describes as simple looks very complicated to me though!

The cake shop is only a part-time operation, believe it or not, as Ann works for a bank the rest of the week. Her husband is also employed elsewhere. It’s for that reason that you won’t see the shop open Monday-Thursday – not that should stop you staring at the window displays. Unbelievably in the past tax year, Ann says her and her husband have made over 300 cakes – that’s some baking for something which is only a ‘part-time’ undertaking.

You’ll see in the pictures the amazing cakes on offer, but what you might not know is that these display cakes are not real… that is the sponge underneath isn’t. Amazingly, the icing is exactly what you would use in a real cake and some of it in the shops is as old as 6 years and is still looking fresh.

Ann points out that there are a lot of wedding-related businesses in the Castle Arcade. There’s a wedding dress shop along with a hairdressers and a jewellers – this arcade could make a great little mini destination for brides and grooms to be – you could probably source everything you might need somewhere in the arcades, even if not in this one.

Pictures speak a thousand words so take a peek at those around this post, and if you like what you see, don’t forget to visit the Celtic Cakes website.

Wally’s Delicatessen: A Cardiff institution and food-lovers’ paradise

Well… pretty much anyone with any sense and living in Cardiff will have been to Wally’s, so perhaps this needs less of an introduction than other shops. Wally’s has been squarely at the top of my “hitlist” of “must-shoots” ever since day one so when Steve the owner agreed to let me come in and shoot the store, I was almost beside myself with excitement.

If you read the South Wales Echo piece about me, you would have seen that I quoted Wally’s as the place I spend the most time and money in, which isn’t far wrong. I’m also a food writer/blogger in another life and whenever something slightly unusual is called for, you can almost guarantee I’ll be able to find it in Wally’s, so it’s been my port of call for everything ranging from lemongrass stalks to crystallised ginger – and everything else  in between.

Steve Soloman, the owner of Wally's

Steve was kind enough to give me a potted history of the shop when I visited.  Wally’s is a family business, named after Steve’s father Wally Salomon who founded the business many years ago. A Polish immigrant, the shop originally catered mainly for the Eastern European community and was in a different location – where John Lewis is now – only moving to the Royal Arcade in 1981. It also only used to be around half the size it is now, taking over an adjoining shop next door just a couple of years ago.

As the years went by, Wally’s started to stock foods from many different world cuisines, and now you’ll find pretty much every nationality represented in there somewhere. Particularly impressive of course are the ranges of Eastern European food, but a favourite area of mine is the Asian section with the wall of spices and the many different types of naan and poppadum. For health food fanatics (and people like me who feel the odd pang of guilt!) there’s also an impressive range of pulses, seeds and grains that make a fantastic addition to soups and stews etc.

One of the most popular areas of the shop seems to be the American section. Here you’ll find the stuff all the characters in American TV shows talk about ready for your consumption, so expect to see things like Reese’s Pieces, Twinkie bars, Cap’n Crunch cereal and lots more – the bright colours and lurid packaging make this an interesting corner of the store whether you partake in the produce or not. Other impressive areas of note are the cheese and charcuterie counters, which if you are a lover of cheese, meat or both will have you drooling up against the glass at the sheer vastness of the range on offer.

Wally’s recently had a pop-up shop in St David’s which you may have seen. As it was only on an 18-month contract, that’s now closed. When I asked Steve how that’d gone he seemed very pleased, telling me it had revealed new markets and encouraged them to bring newer things to appeal to a younger market into their main store – which is why you’ll find, for example, a sweet and chocolate counter. And speaking of St David’s, Wally’s is one store that has benefited from the new shopping centre – with its entrance only a short distance from Wally’s. Steve said that while they did notice some customer decrease while the building works were on, happily since it’s been completed the business has been booming.

It goes without saying that the range of Polish and Eastern European foods available at Wally's is fantastic

They’ve thought about expanding into other areas and cities, but for now they are happy to concentrate on the ‘home store’ which has a worldwide reputation. People from across the globe can purchase Wally’s goods on their website, and according to Steve, the shop has been mentioned as far afield as the States and is frequently included in round-ups of the best Delis/specialist food shops in Britain – which makes it all the more amazing to have right here on my doorstep! Coming in the summer will be a coffee shop upstairs, which when I visited was still a little way off completion – I can only imagine that it will be busy with all the ‘foodies’ who have come for a morning in culinary paradise and need to take the weight off upstairs.

I got to pay another visit to underneath the arcades while on this shoot as Steve was kind enough to show me the storage area. It’s worth noting because the storage is actually directly under the walkway of the arcade, not Wally’s itself, because the area directly underneath has not been dug out due to being a cholera pit back in the 1800s – an interesting, if rather unsavoury fact, that I will have to do a little bit more investigating on!

Before this turns into a ridiculously long post, I will leave you to enjoy the spendid photos from this shoot (if I do say so myself). I try not to play favourites with the arcades shops anymore, but I can’t deny that this is one of my favourite sets. There are so many that I can’t possibly squeeze them all in, so if you’re hungry for more, please head over to this Flickr set to lay your eyes on extras.

You can keep up with Wally’s at their website, on their Twitter feed and on their Facebook fan page.

As always, feedback, comments and your stories very much welcome in the comments box below. Enjoy!

Nicola, who has worked in the shop for 6 years. Other members of staff have worked there varying lengths of time, some as long as 30 years.

The Wally's storeroom, not underneath the store, but underneath the walkway of the Royal Arcade

The Wally's storeroom, not underneath the store, but underneath the walkway of the Royal Arcade

Price’s Sweets – traditional sweet-shop with a bewildering array of treats

Anybody that walks past Price’s will instantly stop and stare, amazed at the delicious goodies that lie beyond the glass. Or maybe that’s just me. When Price’s first appeared at the end of last year, I was worried about the impact on my wallet (and waistline) that having such a heaven on the doorstep would have. Somehow I’ve managed to resist spending a small fortune in the store (sorry guys), but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy popping in every now and then to indulge my sweet tooth.

Steve and Deina Price very kindly invited me into their shop to shoot the store and learn a bit more about their business a few weeks ago, and being one of my favourite topics – confectionary – I naturally couldn’t resist.

I got to chatting with them both when I visited, and, being such a new shop, made for interesting listening. Steve and Deina live only down the road so they are able to open on Sundays unlike many of the other arcade shops with very low overheads. Deina told me it had been a long-time dream to own a sweet shop – a dream shared by many I’m sure – and had originally looked into opening as part of a franchise.

When that didn’t seem very likely, they began looking for their own shop to open in Cardiff and the arcades seemed to be the natural place to do that. After initially approaching the Morgan Arcade, they eventually settled on a High Street Arcade shop in November 2010.

They have seen good trade, and understandbly, that increases around the major holidays and school breaks. The biggest problem they have seen to date, like others, is the decreased footfall in the arcades brought on by the roadworks on Castle Street and High Street. Many people, they say, don’t realise the shop is there. In fact, while I was photographing a lady wandered in and seemed delighted by her discovery. According to Steve and Deina, that happens all the time. Once people know that the shop is there, they are hooked, but the problem is letting people know that they are there in the first place.

While on the one hand, the smaller outlay of their customers means they are likely to see more customers in an average day than the more expensive surrounding shops, they do have places like supermarkets to compete with. Steve revealed that they just don’t try to compete with the chain stores on St Mary Street for things like advent calendars and Easter eggs, instead investing money in better quality sweets that they sell for a fair price.

And speaking of the very important business of sweets, I asked them what their biggest sellers were. The old classic Rhubarb and Custard was quoted, along with Army and Navy – a sweet I confess I’d never heard of before. If you venture in to the shop, you might find yourself bewildered by the array of sweets on offer, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still caught out by unusual requests. The Price’s do try to accomodate as many different requests as possible, and as a rule of thumb will see if something gets requested three or more times before adding it to the repertoire.

As you’ll see in the pictures, there’s not just the old fashioned sweets in jars, but also ‘retro’ sweets that I remember from the 80s and 90s, which are just brilliant for a trip down memory lane. We’re talking wham bars, black jacks, sherbet dib dabs, parma violets and much, much more besides.

So before I start drooling into the keyboard, I shall leave you to look at the photos and encourage you to get along to Price’s Sweets in the High Street Arcade as soon as you humanly can – just try not to ask for one of every single sweet you can see as one American lady apparently once did… you might be there a while!

As always, feedback very much appreciated, so please feel free to leave comments in the box below 🙂

Share your views on the future of Cardiff’s Arcades

The heritage lottery fund wants to hear from the good people of Cardiff on what they would like to see lottery money invested in from 2013. During the past 13 years, the fund has spent money on more than 130 projects in Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys.

Members of the public can express their opinions until the 26th April 2011 at the Heritage Lottery Fund website.

So far projects like the Museum of Welsh Cricket in Sophia Gardens have benefited, but perhaps we could help the arcades by expressing how much we love them. They are all Grade II listed buildings so they will be around for a while yet, but that doesn’t mean that funding couldn’t help and I’m sure would be appreciated.

Join me in telling the Heritage Lottery Fund what you love about the arcades and help keep them a part of Cardiff’s future, as well as its past.

Jonathan David: Jewellery since 1896 (and its very own watchmaker and goldsmith)

A couple of weeks ago I had the absolute privilege of photographing Jonathan David, one of the oldest shops in the arcade. The store has been at the site since 1896, and is still selling jewellery today.

It hasn’t always been called Jonathan David though. Originally named Kaiser and Sons, it changed to Kingston Brothers amid anti German sentiment just before the first world war. It remained with that name until the 1980s when it was taken over by the current owner, David Hughes-Lewis.

Now named after the current owner’s son, it was Jonathan David himself I spoke to as I spent some time in the shop chatting with him and the fascinating people that work there. I was recently asked “When was the last time you met a traditional watchmaker?” as if they don’t exist any more. It was with such joy that I was able to say “just the other day, in the Morgan Arcade.”

Jonny the watchmaker is 72 and has been working in his craft since he was 15, a true craftsman. He works in the shop repairing watches at his bench, in roughly the same area he has worked all his life (he started in another jewellery shop just up the street). I asked him if he still enjoys the job after all these years, to which the answer was simple; “it’s addictive.”

If you happen to visit Jonathan David you will notice the fantastic traditional exterior, reflecting the traditional values you’ll find on the interior. Well according to Jonathan, this was covered up until as recently as the 1980s until they set about uncovering the beautiful details. What was it about hiding all that stuff behind ugly wood panels – I don’t know what they were thinking…

Anyway, putting all that aside, Jonathan showed me some of the old photos of the original store as it was in the Morgan Arcade all those years ago – it was great to see them, and really brought to the life the history of these arcades and was really fascinating. I’m hoping I’ll get to see more photos like this as the project continues – so if you have any / know of any please, please let me know!

Also in the shop was Pip, who reckoned she was the first female goldsmith in Wales when she started nearly 30 years ago. Incredibly, she had made a teeny tiny set of gold scissors because she had a “spare 25 minutes”. They could cut paper and everything and were probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen crafted from gold!

Chatting with Jonathan it’s clear to see that the changing nature of the area around him is a concern. He’s heard that they’re about to convert one of the empty premises nearby into a strip club, which along with gambling shops and takeaway restaurants, isn’t exactly in-keeping with the atmosphere of a 100 year old jewellery store. Not only that but there’s something like 30 jewellery shops in Cardiff – that’s quite a high level of saturation, but, how many can actually boast a traditional watchmaker and goldsmith right there, on site, working away downstairs? Not many.

While I was here I also got to have a sneaky peek underneath the arcades. This was a fantastic insight into how it might have looked when it was first built. Here there’s a giant safe (no longer) in use and gorgeous green walls and old paraphenalia that looked almost like torture equipment. Jonathan also brought out a box of old watches that he said were found in the underground area, and this was perhaps the most fascinating thing of all. They all contained addresses on, written in that beautiful (if slightly unreadable) old-fashioned writing. Now that I think about it, I wonder why the watches never got returned to their rightful owners.

That’s probably a debate for another day – for now, enjoy the photos, and if you like them, there’s even more over on Flickr. As usual, comments and feedback very, very much appreciated!

Jonathan David Jewellery is open Monday – Saturday and can be found in the Morgan Arcade. Visit the Jonathan David website for more information about the shop.

Some of the original Kingston Brothers signage

10 minutes with The Ethical Chef

Oh the things I do for you, fair reader, in the name of good blogging.

Today is pancake day, officially the best day of the year, and in celebration of Fairtrade Fortnight, The Ethical Chef was cooking pancakes in the Morgan Arcade.

Sounds amazing yeah? Well, I missed it all. One thing led to another and I only managed to wing it across after 5pm where he was packing everything up.

Bummer I thought and was about to head off. Then I thought, what the heck, I’ll go in and have a chat anyway. He said, yeah sure, can you carry this box and we’ll chat as we walk.

No problem, I thought, and off we went for a quick chat and for my arms to get probably the best workout the poor things have ever seen. I’ll be paying for this tomorrow, but I got to spend a few minutes having a good old chat about all things Ethical Chef, Fairtrade Fortnight, Pancakes… and a bit of healthy camera rivalry to add in to the mix.

Deri (I should probably call him by his real name, he’s not a chef robot) told me that the day had been quite busy and the pancakes had been a good way to draw people in and get them chatting about Fairtrade in general. He says he’s tossed over 100 pancakes today and there’d been quite a lot of schoolgroups in who all seemed enthusiastic and had to learn about the different Fairtrade products you can buy.

Fancy pancakes weren’t on the menu (well who needs those), so lemon and sugar were the order of the day. It’s quite difficult to make a completely Fair Trade pancake (wheat is grown in Britain for example), the sugar is fair trade, but the rest of the ingredients were organic, which in itself is a fairly traded industry.

After going off on a million more tangents (food, journalism, cameras, photography, work, etc etc), my brief time with Deri came to an end, and thankfully my arms could finally have a rest. The Ethical Chef is off to a pancake party today, which, under normal circumstances would probably be a heavenly idea, but after a spending a whole day with pancakes I think it was safe to say that Deri was probably starting to feel a tad sickly. Never mind eh?

Fairtrade Fortnight continues in the Morgan Arcade until this Sunday, and there will be free events happening every day, so make sure you pop along for some fair trade fun! The Ethical Chef was established in 2010 by Deri Reed, a vegetarian chef living in Cardiff. You can find out more about him on the Ethical Chef website – if you’re making pancakes tonight, try these Banana Pancakes which are Gluten Free and Vegan.

Money off in Arcade Shops with the all-new Plastik Pass

Today sees the launch of a new venture in Cardiff, the Plastik Pass. Set up by the founder of Plastik Magazine, an alternative Cardiff arts and culture webzine, the pass offers you a great range of discounts in a number of independent shops and venues around our fair city.

The Plastik Pass (picture courtesy of Marc Thomas)

The card costs £5 and lasts for 6 months. Arcade shops included in the scheme are Hobo’s Vintage (15% off), Looby Loo’s Boutique (10% off) and Garland’s Eatery (25% off breakfasts before 11.30). There’s lots of other fantastic places around Cardiff too where you can claim money off.

Marc Thomas, the obscenely talented and all-round lovely person behind the scheme, told me how he hopes the card will help out arcade stores:

Let’s face it, the Arcades aren’t going anywhere – they’re great for the city and the city is great for them. However, when it’s cheap to shop in a chain store, there’s not as much incentive to pop in.

We want to change that.

For the Arcades, the Plastik Pass is an opportunity to attract the right crowd and a good new demographic to their stores. Plastik Magazine does the promotion of their store for them – all they need to do is offer Passholders an excellent discount and service.

Hopefully more Arcade shops will soon sign up to the scheme, it’s free for them and they can offer any kind of discount or reward that they like – so if you are one (or know one) get in touch with Marc to sort something out.

For all the rest of us regular punters, visit the Plastik Pass website to get your grubby mitts on your very own card – they only cost £5.

Fair Trade Fortnight Cymru at the Morgan Arcade

In what is fast becoming my favourite Arcade shop (because every week of the project something different has been housed there!), 22 Morgan Arcade, is currently playing host to another temporary gathering – this time for Fairtrade Fortnight Cymru.

I popped in very briefly at lunchtime to take a few photos and take a look around at what they’d done with the space since the Nothing to Declare show ended last week.

Inside I got chatting to Steve, who was very excited about me taking photos (he used to chair the Cardiff University Photography Society – so it’s only natural) and told me about some of the events that are coming up over the next couple of weeks.

Martha Musonza Holman

They were still putting the finishing touches to the displays while I was there, but I think it should be all finished by now, so I’d highly recommend you pop in if you can over the next couple of weeks. There will be things going on every day, free samples and stuff available to buy starting at very low prices. Adorning the walls you’ll find several paintings with fair trade slogans (in Welsh and English), information about the campaign and other displays for you to enjoy. There’s also a kids painting table area (although I must confess secretly I’d love to sit at one of those myself) for everyone to join in with.

Also in the shop was Martha who was selling fairtrade goods from Zimbabwe. She also gives talks to local schools about fair trade, so is a good one to speak to if you want to know more about the topic.

Wales is the world’s first fair trade nation, an honour bestowed on the people of Wales by an independent panel so we should be very proud to have such a pop-up appear right in the midst of town – if you want to find out more you can visit the Fair Trade Wales website, and to find out more about what’s happening over the next couple of weeks, visit the Fair Trade Fornight Cymru website.

I’ll be popping along as often as I can to see some more Fairtrade goings-on action, including next Tuesday (pancake day) when The Ethical Chef will be popping along to make pancakes. Stay tuned!

Enjoy the pictures – as always, feedback very well received! And again, as usual, you will find more pictures in the Fair Trade Fortnight Flickr set.

Happy St David’s Day!

I must admit, the Arcades didn’t get quite so excited about Saint David than they did for Saint Valentine – but I thought I’d post a couple of displays that I did find. In fairness, I didn’t manage to get to the arcades today, on the big day itself, though so maybe there was more… the next event I’ll be looking out for is Mother’s Day – let me know if you spot anything!