Sealed with a Loving Kiss: Naughty but nice in the Royal Arcade

I’ve photographed the premises of Sealed with a Loving Kiss (SWALK) before, when it was the vintage area of Joie de Vivre.

While the downstairs of the shop remains the same, upstairs you’ll now find something a little different, in the shape of the wonderful little independent lingerie boutique, SWALK.

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Cardiff Arcades Project: 15,000 hits, 100GB of photos and a million thankyous

Well, we’re just over 4 months into the Cardiff Arcades Project now and an important milestone has been reached, so I thought now a more prudent time than ever to do a “where we’re at” post and share with you some of the most popular posts, some interesting stats and other fun facts. Not only that but I’m going to be exhibited as part of the Big Little City exhibition in Cardiff City Centre, something I’m so excited about after a relatively short time after undertaking the project!

When I started out on this project (read more about how that started here) I never expected the response to be so phenomenal. The love and affection for our arcades was probably obvious to many people, but the kind words and encouragement people have given me as this site has grown, developed and expanded has been truly wonderful.

It’s fair enough to say that without the support of my fantastic readers, including those that  go out of their way to tell shops about me, then this project wouldn’t be where it is today. Blogging for free is a fun, if demanding task. There’s no financial incentive to keep going, just the knowledge that people are enjoying your words and pictures, and that people are appreciating what you’re doing. I should also mention the fantastic support from the (now defunct) Guardian Cardiff which gave me the opportunity to host a regular column on the project’s progress. I’m pleased to say that this will be continuing over on YourCardiff, who have also shown huge support for the project.

So, even though I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to imagine working on this project, staying up late nights and working through the weekend to update the site and look for new stories to tell you, it’s been worth every single minute.

I’ve met some truly marvellous people along the way, people who have inspired me, educated me, made me laugh and given me lots of cups of tea. I’m so proud to have featured all of the beautiful shops that I’ve photographed so far on this site, and without their help this project would also still just be an idea, rather than a reality.

As I write this, the official stats stand at over 15,000. In reality the project has had slightly more than that as I started the website over on a Tumblr blog, but decided to move the project over here within a couple of weeks as I felt the WordPress platform gave more scope for change and layout.

I’ve taken around 10,000 photos since starting the project, and now have a folder on my hard drive that is over 100GB in size (yes, I shoot in raw). The top 10 posts are listed below, as in those that have had the most hits. It might be a little unfair to compare some of the older posts with newer posts that have had longer to accumulate hits, so don’t take it as a direct correlation of the popularity of a shop. It’s no surprise to see arcade stalwarts such as the New York Deli, Spillers and Wally’s up there but it’s also interesting to note that new shop Folk Farm is at number two, while wide-angle shots of the Morgan Arcade also come pretty highly.

So what’s next for the project? I don’t intend to stop now while the going’s good, but it is becoming harder to complete this project than it was in the early days. It’s difficult to find shops willing to be photographed. I’m not really sure why this, and I’m sure every shop has its reasons. As a commuter to Bath my time in Cardiff during the day is limited. I like to warn shops that I’m coming first so that they know what to expect. I’ve been known to spend up to 3 hours in a shop talking and photographing (although that’s by no means the average time, it’s probably more like 45 minutes). So this is another plea, if you’re a shop, a business owner, a shopper, someone with a tale to tell, please please do get in touch so we can talk about me coming in to take some photographs and share your wonderful story.

It also seems like an opportune time to mention the Donations page. Ultimately I do believe it is a fantastic service for the arcade shops, the arcades and Cardiff itself. The amount of times people have told me that they didn’t know a shop existed until they’d seen it on my blog, well let’s just say if every person that told me that gave me some money I’d be pretty well off by now. I’m hoping to take the project further with the potential for exhibitions and books. It costs money to do that. Money, which I, unfortunately, don’t have (it all goes on lenses which also cost a lot of money ;-)). Crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to share the burden of doing something like this, and I’m so grateful to anybody that has so far given just a few pounds to the project. You might think it doesn’t make a difference, but it honestly means so much to me. Just imagine if every one of those 15,000 hits had brought in just one pence in donations.

Update: since writing this post, I’ve found out that I will be exhibiting as part of the Big Little City exhibition in Cardiff city centre. Printing out photos is expensive and I want to print out as many as I possibly can. For our wonderful shops this is a fantastic bit of exposure, so every penny that comes into the donations pit will be used to put towards the exhibition for the moment. Other random costs include mounting boards, business cards, blu-tack and all the energy drinks I’ll need to consume to get the project ready for printing on time!

But, not to dwell on the money side of things, here I present to you the top 10 posts of the Cardiff Arcades Project 2011. Click on any of the photos to read the original post (opens in a new window). Here’s to the next 15,000 hits!

No. 1: 888 hits

It will come as no surprise to anyone that has been following this blog from the start that the New York Deli is the number one post. That was when the project exploded because of a teensy weensy claim that was made in the post about St David’s, by the NY Deli owner Harriett, which may or may not be true. Terrifying at the time, but undoubtedly a great boost for hits… February 14th 2011 is still my biggest day on the blog so far…

No. 2: 866 hits

Following close behind the New York Deli is the incredible post on Folk Farm. I really, really don’t like to play favourites but I can’t deny the sheer joy I felt when shooting these photos and subsequently sharing them with everyone out there. Royal Wedding fever was shaking the nation, but in my little world, April 29th 2011 was my second biggest day – and this time for a positive reason, people just couldn’t enough of these fantastic photos and the crazy tale of Folk Farm, Chris Brick.

No. 3: 595 hits

I got my wide-angle lens back in February, heading straight for the Morgan Arcade after hours to test it out. With its gorgous ceilings, fantastic architectural detail and those skylights, it was no surprise that these turned out to be popular, opening up a world never before seen to many people – make sure you look up next time you’re walking through!

No. 4: 595 hits

With a couple of gorgeous ladies, fantastic vintage finery and a cracking shop to take photos of, this one couldn’t really go wrong could it? This one’s proved to be perenially popular and pretty much every day someone out there is looking at it. And why wouldn’t you, it’s beautiful!

No. 5: 519 hits

The arcades are not just about individual shops, they’re about so much more than that. Record Store Day was one of the best days of the year for me. Exhausting, yes, but exhilariting. I flitted between Catapult and Spillers (above) to capture the queues, the DJ sets, the customers, the excitement and flurry of activity as record store day took over on Saturday April 16th, 2011.

No. 6: 459 hits

As more and more people wanted to know what had happened in the John Lewis/St David’s debacle, I collected it all together in one timeline. It’s all worked out well in the end, but it makes for interesting reading now there’s a bit of distance between now and the events happening.

No. 7: 356 hits

Catapult is a wonderful place to take photos, the underground decks basement, the regulars, and of course the records themselves. While I was photographing this place, a customer came in to chat with the manager, Simon (pictured). Out came the revelation that music is better under a Conservative government, and that was enough to capture the imagination, and was retweeted by BBC Wales Music and Radio One DJ, Huw Stephens.

No. 8: 297 hits

Fairly early on in the project, I was told about an art show taking place in one of the empty shops in the arcades (this shop is soon to become one of Liam Gallagher’s ‘Pretty Green’ shops). It’s always a shame to see an empty shop in the arcade, but when they’re used for temporary exhibitions, shows and pop-up shops it’s wonderful to see the space being used in a creative and dynamic way. This was such fun to shoot, with all the students posing with their artwork (some reluctantly so!) and having a laugh as I tried my hardest to direct them…

No. 9: 288 hits

Of course, of course, of course Wally’s was going to be one of the biggest hitters – that much is pretty obvious. With beautiful food to look at and an interesting story behind one of the most popular shops in Cardiff I had to get there pretty early to get these empty shop shots. I could have spent probably another day photographing in this shop, have a look at the photos yourself to get a feel for this wonderful deli.

No. 10: 277 hits

It might be a little surprising that Spillers isn’t a little bit higher in the chart than this, as the world’s oldest record shop is one of the most popular shops in the world, let alone Cardiff. But if you add together all the related posts that have come out of Spillers (from Record Store Day and from the Saturday Sessions) then it probably would actually be at number one. As it is, these shots show the interior of the shop that only moved into the arcade just over a year ago from its old location on The Hayes. Pretty good timing for the project eh?

A Vintage Affair: Cornucopia of retro delights in the Morgan Arcade

Unless you’re living under a pretty hefty rock, it can’t really have failed to escape your notice that vintage is BIG right now. Heard of little show called Mad Men, anyone? Anyway, I digress… A Vintage Affair in Morgan Arcade caters to those looking for their fill of lovely clothes, pretty teacups, gorgeous jewellery and pretty much everything else in between. There’s only one rule, ‘I usually only accept items from before the 1980s’, says owner Melanie King. So if you’re looking to offload any of your own items, bear that in mind.

The shop itself has been there only around a year or so, taking up the empty shop Rouge left behind (recognise the wallpaper?) and was originally run by 3 different sellers. Now the only Mel from the original trio is left, she is joined by Edwin Dyson, well-known in the city as the creator of the Blind Lemon Vintage Fair who supplies the line of men’s clothing which can be found upstairs.

It’s important to note the presence of menswear in the shop, undercatered as the sartorially sophisticated males of the city seem to be, especially in the vintage market. It’s nice to know that there are certain hotspots which they can find something to pick up (others include Looby Loos and Hobo’s, both in High Street Arcade).

Setting up the shop, owner Mel wanted it to be a little different from a traditional shop, with something to look at in every corner. Resulting in a pleasing ‘wow’ as you enter the door, I wager you could probably spend days in here and see something new with every glance. In short, a haven for those who like to rummage to find a hidden treasure or two.

Since its launch, Mel tells me its been popular. Indeed, when I visited it was pretty tricky to get any empty shop photos, having to sneak them in wherever possible. Obviously its wares are a popular subject, but it’s also helpful It’s situated in a pretty neat spot, next to the famous Plan and within a few metres of the infamous Spillers Records. It also benefits from being not too far from the regenerated Hayes/St David’s area, and is surely a welcome diversion from the more sterile environment of the bigger chain shops that surround it.

Way back when (that’s what people say when they don’t know the exact date, right?), Mel tells me it was a Sarsaparilla Bar. Still she gets older people popping their head round the door to tell her all about its former days selling it to the locals.

Sourcing her goods from a myriad of places including vintage fairs and customers bringing stuff in to sell, Mel tells me of the time she visited an Aladdin’s-cave of an old house packed to the rafters with (very) old magazines, clothes, accessories and crockery. Heaven for her shop, and my mind instantly wonders exactly how many photos I’d take in a place like that (rough estimate: 12 billion).

To me, the three (four if you count Folk Farm) vintage shops in the arcades complement each other perfectly, because they’re not really competing with each other. Looby Loo’s is the place to go for clothes, with its rails of elegant finery, whereas A Vintage Affair, although selling a few clothes, is probably more about the accessories, the jewellery, the ‘bits’ and Hobo’s, well that’s just a world of its own that really has nothing like it.

So next time you’re picking up a rare vinyl from Spillers, or treating yourself to a delicious brunch in The Plan, why not pop across to A Vintage Affair and see what you can find. Warning – I take no responsibility for any hours lost as you wander the rails/shelves/floor in amazement.

See below for some more pictures from A Vintage Affair. Predictably, the shutter button didn’t get much rest during this shoot so you can see a whole heap more over on this Vintage Affair Flickr set. Enjoy, share, tell me what you think in the comments box.

Cardiff Arcades Bargains: April 2011

The last time I posted a round-up of great little Arcade bargains I had a positive response, so, with that in mind I’ve decided to make it a (semi) regular feature.

I rounded these up in about an hour, so imagine how much more you could find if you devoted your Saturday afternoon spending trip to it?

I’ll be posting any bargains I find as often as I can muster the energy, and promise to do a full-round up at least once a month.

In the meantime, if you see any bargains that you want to share, please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment!

Prices in this post range from £1 to £1100. If you’re thinking £1100 and bargain don’t really go very well together, when you consider that the item in question should be worth around £5000, you might begin to think differently.

In this issue you’ll find accessories, jewellery, shoes and clothing and crockery – enjoy!

Vintage Bag, Looby Loos, High Street Arcade, £6

Hand-made earrings, Looby Loos, High Street Arcade, £5

Purses, Bejewelled, High Street Arcade, £10

Converse trainers, Buzz Shoes, High Street Arcade, £25

Army shirt, Hobos, High Street Arcade, £12

Green belt with star detail, Hobos, High Street Arcade, £5

Butterfly trinket box, Rossiters, Royal Arcade, £5

Owl ring (also available in other colours), Rossiters, Royal Arcade, £7.50

Various singles, Folk Farm, Castle Arcade, £1

Engagement ring, Jonathan David, Morgan Arcade, £1100 .... its supposed to be £5000!

Mix n match teacups and saucers, A Vintage Affair, Morgan Arcade, £2

Teapot, A Vintage Affair, Morgan Arcade, £8

Cardiff Arcades Project on S4C

Yesterday I got a little touch of fame as the project appeared on Welsh TV channel S4C on their Wedi 7 programme.

The show, a bit like the One Show but for Wales, is a daily magazine show of things going on in Wales. The segment I was in focused on in the arcades and my project got a very kindly mention.

Very exciting and surreal – especially as a non-Welsh speaker!

You can watch the entire episode of Wedi 7 on demand – follow this link: Cardiff Arcades project on Wedi 7, S4C. . The arcades bit starts at around 14 minutes 30 and click on the “owl” symbol to the right to turn on English subtitles.

If you watch the whole segment you’ll also see the owners of Spillers Records and Michelle from Garland’s and Rules of Play, as well as references to the New York Deli.

Thankyou to Nia from S4C for sorting this all out!

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.

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.

Arcade Bargains: February 2011

I thought I’d do a very quick post to share a few of the bargains I picked up yesterday on my arcades birthday.

Now that I’ve done it though I’m wondering if this would be good as a regular feature? Obviously I won’t always have the cash to buy all of the bargains I find, but a post every couple of weeks or so with a round-up of some great finds might be a welcome addition for Cardiff shoppers out there – let me know what you think!

Doing this project has certainly made me stop and think twice about visiting a high street chain for something, as Ben from Hobo’s pointed out when I interviewed him – in his shop you can pick up a whole outfit for £35. Even though we’re in a recession, we’re never going to stop shopping, but if we can think of ways to still treat ourselves while saving a few quid (and helping out independents!) then all the better.

There are obviously some expensive things in the arcades, but these bargains that I picked up show you that you can get something for a few pounds that not only are you likely to pay more for elsewhere, but they are also more likely to be a bit special.

Enjoy the pictures and any feedback welcome!

Thick shiny black belt from Hobo's Vintage, High Street Arcade: £5

Retro sunglasses from Hobo's Vinage: High Street Arcade: £10

Flower ring from Bejewelled, High Street Arcade: £5

Bracelet from Bejewelled, High Street Arcade: £7.50

Teaset, including teapot, cup and saucer, sugar bowl and milk jug from A Vintage Affair, Morgan Arcade: £8

Silver evening bag from A Vintage Affair: £6

Butterfly ring from Rossiter's, Royal Arcade: £4.75

Super-cool, super-wide angle shots from the Morgan Arcade

Today I managed to get my hands on a 10-20mm wide angle lens, which I’ve got on loan for a couple of weeks. I simply couldn’t wait to try it out, so I popped to the Royal and Morgan Arcades after work (the High Street and Castle Arcades put their shutters down by the time I get home) and took a few of these – the shots I like best are all from Morgan, hence the title of this post.

I love, love, love the architecture of the arcades, and boy does the 10mm show it off well. I love the arcades at night too, but I can’t wait to shoot in the broad sunlight as well as the gorgeous skylights let in some beautiful light if you catch the time right (and it means I won’t have to ramp the ISO up quite so high – some of these shots are in the lofty heights of 2000…)

One of these days a miracle will happen and I’ll manage to drag myself out of bed for an early morning shoot… we’ll see…

Anyway, back to the important business – hope you like the pictures – feel free to leave any feedback in the comments!

If you like these don’t forget to check out more wide-angle goodness from the following arcades:
Castle Arcade wide-angle photos
High Street Arcade wide-angle photos