For all its buzz, Cardiff’s high street is not known for originality. Some choice landmarks are exceptions in a city centre choked by chain stores bickering for space. It is no shopper’s idyll.
This makes the city’s arcades, with their quirky, unconventional outlets, all the more precious. And for those hunting a good read to celebrate World Book Day tomorrow they are particularly valuable.
Away from coffee steam, the drift of soporific background music and the clamour of smartly-dressed shop assistants in places like Waterstones, there lies an alternative.
Tucked away in the arcades are the city’s two remaining independent bookshops, with the old musk and tat traditional booksellers are known for. Nostalgic readers will be happy to toast their health.
Troutmark bookshop, in Castle Arcade, has been around for 14 years. Bucking a trend for independent shops, it has managed to flourish and even expand, though recent times have been harder.
Jason Richards, who has worked there for seven years, said: “People come here for all sorts. We have quite a lot of regular customers.
“Generally it’s got busier over the years but maybe in the last couple of years it’s been a bit quieter. We didn’t have it all when it opened so in the 14 or 15 years it’s been here it’s expanded a bit.”
Troutmark is still a small operation, but not unsuccessful. Its owner, Kerry Rodgers, spends much of his time abroad and sporadically returns to buy books. The shop is run on a skeleton crew of two staff for most of the year, but still manages a stock of 30, 000 items.
And when a shop next year closed a few years ago, the shop was expanded, and now has a top floor to house its comics, as well as extra space on the ground floor.
Jason mentions a time when there were independent bookshops in both Cathays and Roath, but with competition from chains, those are now gone. But he is optimistic.
He said: “I think Waterstones are good for us in a way, for book people. I think it keeps second-hand books flying around in the air. Some people will spend lots of money in Waterstones and then sell the books to us.”
Over at Capital bookshop in Morgan Arcade, things look less entrepreneurial but signs are good. The shop is dusty, disheveled and littered with random books, but the formula seems to work.
The owner does not want to talk because of personal problems, but mentions a few key facts. The shop stocks a good 3,000 books still, and has been in existence for some 25 years.
Back in the high street, the chains are teeming with people as books are rushed from their shelves. But this World Book Day, there are still some ruffled old shops keeping the faith.