6 Of Europe’s Best Independent Shops

Tom Armstrong

Tom Armstrong is editor of Sabotage Times. Born and bred in London, he has written about music, style and subculture for Telegraph Men, Esquire, Hypebeast, and Shortlist, among others. You’ll find him DJing in clubs or at festivals around the UK and Europe, on the radio, or tweeting at @tomdisco.

Published

Date (30/05/2016)

With a commitment to unique goods and personal service, independent shops are putting the pleasure back into shopping, offering some much needed retail therapy in the age of click-to-buy. From ukulele sellers to vinyl peddlers, we’ve picked some of our favourites from across Europe, new and old.

Leleland, Berlin

Gneisenaustr. 52a, 10961 Berlin
http://www.leleland.eu
 

How would you describe your shop? 

Harald, Owner: A ukulele paradise! A large choice in a small room.

How and why did you start?

I was a keen ukulele player and there was nowhere in Europe where I could go and pick up a ukulele and try it out before buying it. At that time there were only two brands that could be bought over the counter in Germany, Lanikei and Kala, the rest had to be imported from the USA and if you didn’t like the sound or feel of the instrument it would cost 70 euro to send it back, which was quite expensive in comparison to the original low price. I spent a long time thinking about this, and as no one else was doing it, I started to plan opening up my own shop. We opened in 2010, firstly with a few instruments and now six years later we have over 160.

What are the advantages for customers shopping in an independent?

The advantages of shopping with us are that all the instruments can be tried out before purchasing which isn’t possible using the only other alternative – online shopping. I cannot compete with online prices but we offer a unique service. We are enthusiasts supplying enthusiasts.

Do you have relationships with other shops around Europe?

We all know each other but due to the fact that there really aren’t many ukulele shops in Europe a network has not sprung up. We are occasionally in contact with a shop in Rotterdam which has about a third of our stock and sometimes we need something from them and vice-versa. Spare parts are fairly difficult to get hold of but we have a good network of suppliers and prefer to get our customers in direct contact with them rather than being the middle men. Of course we are also happy to supply anything our customers want

Do you have any unique selling points and brands?

We currently have products from 52 different manufacturers from a pool of around 3.000 worldwide, from small businesses to factories. With so much choice on offer we feel no need to have our own brands or make our own instruments. We have a few special and unique editions as well as older models. Whilst we do have the occasional used ukulele for sale people tend to keep their instruments or hang them on the wall as ornaments!

 

Two woman walking on a small shopping street
 

John Simons, London

46 Chiltern St, London W1U 7QR
http://www.johnsimons.co.uk
 


How did John Simons start?

Paul Simons: My dad opened our first proper shop in 1964 in Richmond importing American goods into the UK, particularly Ivy League style menswear. We still do a lot of that but the goods aren’t necessarily imported from America anymore, they’re from all over the world, but with that same style in mind.

What are the advantages for customers shopping in an independent?

Firstly it’s the goods themselves – we try and sell things you can’t get in chains. Also it’s the personal service, and the interest of coming into the shop. It’s not just the clothes, it’s the music, the paintings on the walls – the whole experience. There’s an atmosphere in here.

What does being an independent mean to you?

It means setting our own agenda. If the weather’s cold we’ll still sell winter goods – we don’t have to stick rigidly to summer and winter collections. We’ve got a lot more freedom with our buying. We do vintage clothing as well so we can sell more single items.

Do you sell any brands that are unique to you?

Yeah, there’s a few. Our own brand is one. Southwick American suits. Rancourt & Co American shoes. Reyn Spooner hawaiian shirts.

Inside the shop, Printa in Budapest
Photo credit: Tom Armstrong

Jumbo Records, Leeds

5-6 St Johns Centre, Leeds
LS2 8LQ
http://www.jumborecords.co.uk

 

How would you describe Jumbo and how did it start?

Adam, Manager: We were started in the early ’70s by Hunter Smith, who had a mobile disco at the time and wanted to branch out into selling records. In some ways we’re still a traditional record shop in that we don’t specialise in one genre, we do lots of stuff right across the board, but we like to bring a certain amount of specialism to everything we do.

 

Has being an independent helped or hindered you?

A bit of both really. Being an independent doesn’t give you as much buying power, but we do have the freedom to express ourselves and ultimately we do make our own decisions. It’s two sides of the same coin.

What are the advantages to customers shopping in an independent?

I think you get a more of a personal touch. People can come and talk to us, find out our opinions, our recommendations, or get some advice. It’s a wider experience. You may not always get the cheapest prices from independents but ultimately you get the best value.

Do you have relationships with any other shops?

Yeah, there are quite a few shops that we keep in touch with around the country. I think that’s something that’s really developed over the last 10 years or so, partly because of Record Store Day.

What does being independent mean to you?

For me it’s the expression of what you can do individually, rather than being submerged in a stream of homogenous culture. There’s also a certain degree of flexibility – you can react to things quickly. It keeps you closer to the ground.

Fantastik, Barcelona

Carrer de Joaquín Costa, 62, 08001 Barcelona
http://www.fantastik.es

 

How would you describe your shop?

Juan, Owner: Fantastik is a shop with a very particular selection of the mystic, bizarre, odd and original. We sell more than 500 products ranging from toys, household items, decor and religious paraphernalia selected from Mexico, India, China, Russia, Ghana and other countries.

How did it start?

I started 10 years ago with a Mexican friend. I always liked to travel and I was pretty tired of my job, and of course the idea of travelling to buy things was very attractive. At the beginning it was mostly a Mexican shop, now we’re more international. These days I can travel for work two times a year, three weeks to India and three weeks to Mexico. I think that this was the main reason for opening my shop.

What are the advantages for customers shopping in an independent?

You will only find originals in my shop – the Indian items I sell are all made locally in India. And of course there’s the exclusivity. Most of the things I sell can be found in only two or three places in Europe.

What are your favourite items you have for sale?

It’s hard for me to say, I have so many favourites! I bought some trunks from India that are very special. In India trunks are amazingly decorated and I got an artist to paint beautiful animals on them. They’re really unique!

Inside the shop, Fantastik in Barcelona
Photo credit: Tom Armstrong

Pleasures of Past Times, London

11 Cecil Ct, WC2N 4EZ
http://pleasuresofpasttimes.tumblr.com

 

How would you describe your shop and how did it start?

Paul, Owner: My dad started here 50 years ago, essentially as a toy shop. He was an actor, so a lot of the items sold here were theatre and performance based, but I think pop culture is what you’d call it now. Nick [Brown] recently moved Intoxica Records into here from Notting Hill where he’d been for 25 years.

Has being an independent helped or hindered you guys?

Nick: If you’re an independent you can do what you want, stock what you want, run it the way you want. You don’t have to follow any particular corporate dictates. You don’t have to take your staff on bonding sessions – you can take them to the pub. I couldn’t imagine doing it any differently.

What are the advantages to customers shopping in an independent?

Paul: If you come into an independent you’re going to get someone who has very specialised knowledge that you just don’t get from buying on the internet. Look what’s happened to London now, it’s just coffee shops and ‘brand retail outlets’. It’s boring. We hear more and more people saying ‘wow you can actually come in here and talk to someone!’ You might not always find exactly what you want, but you may find out about something you didn’t even know existed.

What does being an independent mean to you?

Paul: I did this as an act of defiance when my dad was getting older and I thought the shop might close. And I always find that I learn from people.

Printa, Budapest

Rumbach Sebestyén u. 10.
1075-Budapest
http://printa.hu

How would you describe Printa? 

Zita, Owner: Printa is a multifunctional space. It’s a design shop, gallery, silkscreen printing studio and a cafe all at once. We design and sell clothing, accessories and graphics. Our ideology is predominantly based on three main things: Budapest, eco-fashion and silk-screen printing.

How did it start?

I owned a small shop just few blocks away, but it became too small for all the things I wanted to do. Besides my own designed products, I was selling silkscreen print from the start, so I thought it would be nice to have a gallery focused on this technique, which was something that was missing in Budapest. I wasn’t satisfied with the silkscreen printing studios that I worked with, and that’s why I decided to make my own. The coffee just came along with it – everybody loves good coffee! I never wanted to run just a shop, I wanted to make a space that gives our visitors a complex experience. They can see an exhibition, have a coffee, chill out, learn something new – and shop.

What are some of the benefits you can offer customers being an independent?

Personal contact, uniqueness, and a story. We alway tell our customers how we make our products, and they are always welcome to go into our studio and see the production. That makes us very special.

Do you hold events or any other interesting things at Printa?

We have silkscreen printing workshops twice a month, and they are very popular. Also exhibition openings or collection showcases every two months.

What does being an independent mean to you personally?

Freedom to do whatever I like and dream about. I’ve created my personal playground, and I enjoy it every day.

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WORDS BY TOM ARMSTRONG