Village are a newly established independent art bookstore. Based in the Corn Exchange in Leeds City Centre, the shop also deals in creative magazines and zines, functioning as a small publishing house. Kelechi Anucha caught up with Ben Holmes, one half of the partnership behind the project.
‘I graduated from Leeds University about two years ago. While I was at university I met quite a few people from Leeds College of Art. One of these people was Joe, who I now work with and another friend, Jack. It was after we graduated that we decided to give something like this a go.’
While Joe’s degree was in graphic design, Ben originally studied computer science. The original business plan was the brainchild of three individuals, but after the third person involved in the project dropped out in order to move to London, the initial plans came to a halt.
‘Joe and I were still throwing the idea back and forth. It wasn’t for about another year really when we finally resolved to do it. We dug the old business plan out, updated it and started looking around for funding. This was the hardest part, it involved a lot of emailing, basically, just asking for money! Eventually we got involved with crowd funding, which allowed us to get the stock together and enhance our business plan.’
‘We came up with the concept behind the interior but Andy Keir of Curiousity Allotment really came through and supported us. It was great; he went off on one and basically built everything.’
Andy Keir has also created interiors for Urban Outfitters. It is possible to see his trademark style subtly imprinted on the overall design of Village Books. The excitement of working with an experienced installation artist is obvious and watching the store come together was a surreal experience for the two university graduates, whose strong partnership is evident.
‘We’re like an old married couple! In theory Joe takes care of the design and I manage the business aspect but the reality is that we overlap a lot.’
Looking at the store’s comfortable and contemporary interior it seems hard to believe that just a few short months ago the whole thing was just an idea. The space is incredibly natural, airy and light, the design dominated by an appealing mix of genuine wood and steel, enlivened by the colourful artwork, photography and graphic design. There is a coffee table, bookended by two burgundy leather sofas. The relaxed and straightforward atmosphere of the store belies the difficulty and perseverance involved in the execution of the project. This persistence has obviously paid off: with Vedett backing the launch of the latest exhibition No Culture Icons, Village Books are moving in the right direction.
‘We started off doing Zine fairs in Manchester and Sheffield. We’ve also had stalls at Live at Leeds and Beacons Festival. Our initial thought was that we were targeting a niche audience, but all sorts of people approached our stall. We frequently had people coming up, their interest peaked, asking us what a zine is.’
That’s an extremely good question. For those of you, who like us, weren’t quite sure, Ben explains that these are self published, self-circulated magazines that have their roots in the DIY punk scene.
‘You would get people making little fanzines about their local punk scene and the genre really expanded from there. Nowadays a lot of artists use this form because it’s a great way for them to get their work out in a medium that’s physical and tactile but also affordable. Rather than trying to sell original prints at £30 each, they can opt for this method.’
Village Books does stock a wide variety of zines. Amongst these titles are Dominic Kesterton’s uncanny comic Yaw Kabe and the artistic, albeit slightly salacious Self Publish Be Naughty titles. In addition to this are a selection of quality hardback art books and indie magazines such as Apartamento, Frankie and The Gourmand.
Village aim to present monthly exhibitions. The store currently features a photography showcase, created and curated by No Culture Icons. Although Ben is keeping the artist lined up for March under wraps, he does hint at the exciting possibility of the loft space being transfigured by a Mayan mural.
‘Whoever we invite to exhibit has free reign, so what ever they want to do with the room they can do it. They have complete influence over what stock is on display, although some things, like the fittings and features are physically nailed into the wall! They can’t move that.’
An example of this freedom is in the bizarre primary coloured wooden men dotted randomly around the store by Jay Cover, the previously exhibiting artist. It is important in such a small space to keep a sense of freshness. By surrendering the area to each exhibiting artist, Village definitely taps into this.
‘Leeds is really unique in that there’s so much going on, so many people who want to do all of these projects and so many people also willing to help each other out just to see these projects happen. There isn’t that many cities in which you can come up with an idea and find people wanting to know how they can help you realise it.’
‘It’s a working progress so we’re hoping over the next few months it will develop a lot. We plan to get a coffee machine in here so people can just come in, sit on the sofas and just chill out.’
Village Books are a testament to the creative drive of arts graduates. This is exciting project constantly on the lookout for fresh talent of high caliber to exhibit. This hybrid bookseller and publisher is one to keep a close eye on over the following months.