In a little hidden corner of Derry’s Cathedral Quarter there lies a treasure trove of a shop - which could easily pass for a funky museum to 20th century kitsch.
Where else could you find furniture and crockery which has graced the big screen in movies, along with early edition Enid Blyton books, hand made jewellery and quirky crafts and a vinyl selection the envy of music lovers the world over?
But the ordinary shopper may not even know that the Yellow Yard exists, nestled as it is off Palace Street - looking over towards St. Augustine’s Church on the Walls.
It is housed in the former shop floor of the old AE McCandless & Co Shirt Factory - and the collective of four shop owners who have taken over the space have made sure that the space retains a lot of its industrial charm - making the space as much of a tribute to Derry’s shirt-making history as a modern selling space.
Jenni Doherty, owner of Little Acorns - the only independent book shop in Derry selling both new and pre-loved titles - is one of the four business owners who moved to The Yellow Yard following the closure of the Bedlam site on Pump Street. While some of the Bedlam traders moved to new premises on Bishop Street, Jenni and three others (Little Blue World, Trunk and Abbazappa Records) took on the site at Palace Street - and have enjoyed being able to keep true to the building’s original use.
“We wanted to use as much of the original fixtures and fittings as possible - so a lot of the trolleys and rails we use were used in the shirt factory.
“Many of the shelving units were used to store the shirts in the factory and we have just given them a lick of paint and re-purposed them.”
The result makes for a shopping experience that offers as much to look at as to look for. Along with the fittings from the shirt factory, Jenni has used fittings from a number of well known shops to make up her eclectic and inviting reading space. Book shelves from both the old Bookworm and Shipquay Books and News make up some of her display space. “It’s important to me to have those fittings - I worked in both shops for a time and their closing has been a big loss for the city.”
Book lovers could easily lose an hour or more in Jenni’s shop - be it perusing through the latest releases to finding a gem of a second-hand book that transports you right back to your own childhood.
“Enid Blyton still sells remarkably well - they fly out.” Jenni said. “You find that a lot of adults buy children’s book for the sheer nostalgia of it.” But with a cute little children’s corner - where children and adults alike are encouraged to read, play and enjoy the books around them a new generation of young readers is also being well catered for.
Jenni estimates there are around 10,000 books in Little Acorns and she is fairly confident she could put her hand to any title she is asked for within a few minutes.
“I have a few thousand more at home - and I’m always on the look out for more.” The new premises at Palace Street is a far cry from Jenni’s roots - when she started out with Little Acorns it was little more than one table stocked with some of her own collection in the original Bedlam venue on William Street.
Now she sells books on behalf of local writers, sellers, and collectors as well as running an online store for Little Acorns. She has also tirelessly worked to forge relationships with big name publishers - and among her stock she has a host of bestsellers signed by big name authors. Along with a collection of signed books from local writers (Jenni being a huge supporter of the wealth of writing talent from our city) this Christmas she has been able to source signed books from some of the world’s bestsellers - her own current favourite? Signed copies of the new Judy Blume novel.
But it is her dedication to the local arts, and her love of the kitsch that brings people through the door time and time again. Jenni has Ireland’s only typewriter museum housed in her shop and her now famous chairs (there are three and counting - a writer’s chair, a theatre chair and an artist’s chair - signed by local and international ‘celebs’).
Like many booksellers she has also had to diversify her range dramatically - as sales of books generally are on the decline. But for bibliophiles and wannabe writers, there is a host of other treats on offer - from guides on how to write, to near-the-knuckle postcards and posters and trinkets to line any festive stocking.
“I don’t think bookshops have had their day, but we do have to think outside the box a bit when it comes to stock. But for a lot of people nothing will beat the feel of a book.”
Among this year’s biggest sellers are the new range of Ladybird books aimed at the grown up market - from The Hipster to the The Husband, the books have been marching out the door of the Yellow Yard where they are sold by both Jenni and her neighbour in the store, Katie Blue from Little Blue World.
Walking into Little Blue World is like taking a leap through the looking glass. Over plump cat cushions stare at you beside intricate handmade jewellery. Fine china is decorated with images from ‘Star Wars’ or slightly rude words. Classic records have been transformed into clocks. Vintage toys sit beside Muppets, beads and baubles are everywhere. Vintage clothes sit beside kitsch home accessories.
It feels like a local take on internet crafting giant Etsy - with stock to suit all manners of tastes but without the hassle of having to wait for the postman or pay exorbitant shipping costs.
And it all comes from the mind of Katie - who spends her time between running Little Blue World and selling her crafty items online. The move from Bedlam has allowed her to expand her store front and experiment with new crafts.
The same goes for Ben Allen of Abbazappa records. In the old Bedlam site on Pump Street he was limited to sharing space in the back of the building with Mark from Trunk - but now he takes up a quarter of the space at Yellow Yard and stocks Derry’s largest collection of vinyl - as well as a host of other music paraphernalia.
The shop looks like the very epitome of cool - with old shelving units from the factory turned on their side to hold the large selection of vinyl albums Ben has in store.
But Abbazappa does not discriminate when it comes to music - as the name may suggest. Ben stocks everything and his collection of Daniel O’Donnell albums have their own place close to the drum ‘n’ base and heavy metal.
From collectibles to hard core tunes for the budding or established DJ - Ben is offering something different to the music scene in Derry which has also been decimated in recent years due to the popularity of MP3 downloads and internet sales.
His stock makes him in big demand throughout the North and online - and he spends his downtime either sourcing new stock or visiting markets throughout the North to sell to music fans.
His shop sits beside Trunk - a vintage clothes and furniture shop run by Mark Kenny - who used to own Flip on London Street.
It’s a vintage fan’s dream - with funky 70s pictures on offer beside old photography lamps (the kind, Mark rightly points out that sell for hundreds in high end shops and feature on the pages of interior design magazines). Old school equipment (PE hurdles, tiny chairs and tables) are available beside 80s coffee tables and crockery that you may well remember from your childhood.
“You never really know what is going to sell. Things come and go in trends,” Mark said. “A year or two back, vintage China was really big - but to be honest the whole vintage thing never really took off here the way it did in other places.
“We get a range of buyers - students looking to furnish a flat, fans of upcycling, people who see things they remember from their granny’s house, or their childhood.”
Some things, he says, will always sell well - coffee tables and kitchen tables are a sure thing. In the range of clothes he also offers, brand names, if made well, will also walk out the door. But outside of selling, Mark has also been known to loan out furniture, clothes and other props to the local theatres and, in recent times, to the new film studios at Ballykelly.
For Mark, who was also there at the beginning of Bedlam, the new collective way of operating is a win/win.
“Working together we are able to get so much more done than we would individually. We’ve been able to expand our space - keep our costs down and with this new space we still have room for expansion. Times are tough for traders but thinking a little differently can make things work.”