Wakefield’s Independent Retail

From clothing to candles, and boutiques to barbershops, there’s a wealth of independent retail to be found in Wakefield.

By Ryan Bell, Digital Editor

From clothing to candles, and boutiques to barbershops, there’s a wealth of independent retail to be found in Wakefield; it’s something I feel strongly about and it’s something that can sometimes get obscured in the shadow of attractive instant online availability. In these difficult times in which many small businesses have worked tirelessly to survive, altering the way they usually operate in the balance to be safe and successful; I feel it’s appropriate to celebrate them. With that in mind, here is a handful of independent Wakefield based retailers that I personally love, and recommend you check out.

Division 24

Hellraiser Records

Wakefield has a solid history of independent retail and so let’s to start with a historic building – The Old Vicarage. Its construction dates to the mid-1300s, though like many I know it best as an alternative retail space, one I first experienced in my early teens, skateboard tucked under arm, in awe at this thrilling environment of tattoos and piercings, heavy metal music and extreme sports. Some of the shops may have shifted over the years – alternative clothing/music merchants Morgana & Hellraiser for example now successfully operate out of The Ridings shopping centre – but one store that remains in The Old Vicarage takes my pick as one of the cities independent crown jewels – Division 24.

Operating as the area’s only skateboard shop (originally trading under the title Boardriders) Division 24 has been instrumental in the growth and preservation of skateboard culture in the city, providing decks, wheels and t-shirts as well as other skate-related paraphernalia for almost 20 years. Committed to their craft, the shop has proved a successful hub which has helped its clientele blossom, some of whom have found success in the commercial side of skateboarding. Could there be a comparison between the blood, sweat and tears levels of dedication of skateboarders, and that pursuit and passion found in those who choose to take the plunge into setting up independent retail? I think so – though I am fully prepared to be told I’m reaching a little with that one!

Walton Herbs, Sandra Carlon

Books On The Lane, Sandra Carlon

Someone who knows about just that, however, is Sandra Carlon, manager for Books on The Lane/Walton Herbs, an independent book and seasonal plant/herb store which operates on Oakenshaw Lane, Walton, a few miles south of the city centre. When I spoke to her about running an independent retail business, she lovingly described it as “all part of a soul enriching experience” and in particular referenced the real effort made by Wakefield residents during these difficult times, declaring she “wouldn’t want to be situated anywhere else in the world”.  It was clear through talking to Sandra, as well as reading through the charming blurbs she writes for a selection of the books for sale on the shop’s website, that it is passion that drives the people behind the counters of our indie shops. Much like Division 24, communities seem to form around these spaces, and I enjoyed hearing Sandra’s stories of customers sipping tea and chatting whilst popping in for a browse of the books, or the young local artists she had commissioned to help flourish the interior design. In the past, Sandra played a big part in live music events at spaces such as The Orangery and The Hepworth which aimed to make classical and jazz more accessible to young people. It is through this passion that Books on The Lane/ Walton Herbs were conceived and as trading arms for Yorkshire Live Music CIC, Sandra is happy to help provide financial support in her love of music, through another love melding of books and nature.

Betty Loves Candles

Wah Wah Records

In a world of convenience, where Amazon next day delivery can be achieved at the tap of a smartphone, it’s a beautiful thing to see small businesses’ hard work being returned by equally passionate customers. One image that immediately springs to mind is the snaking queue of vinyl record lovers outside Wah Wah Records on Brook Street at 5am, coffee flasks in hand, sharing a laugh with one another in the seeming daftness of it all (I’m not judging, as I am often found somewhere in this queue!) on the annual “Record Store Day” waiting to get their chosen bit of black wax.  Since opening its doors in 2014, Wah Wah Records has become the premier location for music fanatics in Wakefield, stocking new and used vinyl as well as a selection of CDs and cassettes. If you’re analogue inclined, it’s an ideal place to crate-dig through a superb selection of records dished out by knowledgeable and ever hospitable hosts Alan and Will. The store has gone from strength to strength, hosting in-store gigs from artists such as Billy Bragg as well as bagging a runner up spot in Long Live Vinyl magazine’s Record Shop of The Year back in 2018.

Of course, there are so many indie retailers in Wakefield and the surrounding areas that deserve recognition, though I chose to highlight this smaller and more personal selection to illustrate an important part of what I think makes them great, the inter-personal relationship between those behind the counter, and those in front of it. Despite the tough times being far from over, I am optimistic for better times on the horizon, and I can’t wait to get back into these spaces again.

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