Claire Grove Buttons: Cardiff institution, craft-lover’s paradise and photographer’s dream

Pretty much since the day I started this project, I’d wanted to feature ‘the Button shop’ as I call it. I often describe it as my favourite shop, and I’m not even too much into crafting (don’t seem to have the skill for it…). But in here, it’s a real Aladdin’s cave of tiny wonders. Just to warn you, if you have a button phobia, you might want to close your browser quick sharpish, right now… if not, read on…

Claire Grove Buttons is one of the oldest shops in the arcade, having been in business in the same unit for around 30 years, after a brief foray in the now defunct Dickens Arcade (now the site of Revolution).

Born in Birmingham but growing up in London and Wales, Claire decided to open a button shop after leaving art college and thinking it would be a good move. Her distant family has a button factory in Birmingham which has been going for a very long time, so you might say it was in the blood.

In the beginning, Claire would design and make the buttons herself, but now sources them from a variety of places, many of them from her favourite country, India. You can see the Indian influence throughout the shop, in the intricate designs of the buttons and the belly dancing outfits adorning the wall.

During her time in the arcade, Claire has seen the majority of businesses come and go, with only Constantinou’s and Barker’s lasting a similar length of time as her. She can remember both Cafe Minuet and Troutmark Books opening, now institutions in their own right.

She reckons the boom time for the shop was the 80s, when craft was very big and more people were knitting. On the other hand, people will always need buttons and she also does big business from tourists charmed by the quirky nature of the little shop no doubt. As crafting starts to come back into the mainstream now, you can but hope that once again there might be a boom time for the shop, so that it can keep going for another 30+ years!

At the start of my post I mentioned button phobics. I have a couple of friends who have this strange fear, but naturally Claire has met her fair share of others in her time too. She told me that it’s usually men, who are forced into the shop by their other halfs and stand there stiff as a board looking petrified. Other times, a friend will be loitering outside while those inside gleefully tell Claire that their companion is too frightened to come in. She’s even seen people use the shop as ‘therapy’ to overcome their fears… the lengths people will go to. Interestingly, or perhaps weirdly, she’s never seen anybody with a fear of beads. Go figure.

Working in the shop during my visit was Elaine, who has been at the shop for a number of years and has also worked at other arcade businesses such as the New York Deli. Elaine makes a lot of the jewellery hanging for sale from the walls, and told me that she is still finds things in the shop that she’s never seen before even after many years.

Elaine also told me that the shop is quite selective about who they let take photos in the shop, so I hope that these pictures have done this wonderful place justice, and if you like them, please feel free to let me know in the comments box below.

Like so many of the shops I have photographed this week, this is a shop which I could run up a huge shutter count for, so you will find more in this Flickr set.



5 thoughts on “Claire Grove Buttons: Cardiff institution, craft-lover’s paradise and photographer’s dream

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