Demolition plan ‘threat to state of independence

Alan Capes, Rare and Racy, Devonshire Green
Alan Capes, Rare and Racy, Devonshire Green

Before the concept of the Devonshire Quarter emerged as a magnet for small, independent and sometimes quirky shops and other businesses, there was Rare and Racy.

For 45 years, it has been selling second-hand books, music and prints in two-storey premises in Devonshire Street, opposite the green, on a fringe of Sheffield city centre.

“If you have an interest in free jazz, contemporary poetry, the history of Sheffield and its environs, classical music, anthropology, country, blues… then you will enjoy a visit to our store,” it proclaims.

Now its future is in doubt – again.

The shop is part of a block earmarked for redevelopment, alongside another longstanding business, the Natural Bed Shop, and more recent arrivals, fashion shop Syd and Mallory and the Rag Parade vintage clothing store.

Plans have been submitted to the council to demolish the row to make way for two cafes, bars or restaurants with 14 apartments above and behind.

Eight years ago Rare and Racy was threatened by financial problems, alleviated when customers and others responded with benefit concerts.

The latest situation has prompted a rapidly-growing online petition. One objector says: “There has been a sad loss of a number of independent shops in the Devonshire Street and West Street area and there is now an over-abundance of coffee shops and food outlets, many of them chains. Devonshire Street has a unique character due to the types of independent shops which do still remain.”

Local Green Party councillor Jillian Creasy fears “the final nail in the coffin for small independent businesses in the area”.

“There will be nothing left to make Devonshire Green distinctive or interesting and no home-grown businesses, which keep profits circulating in the local economy.”

Support may be flooding in for Rare and Racy and its co-owner Alan Capes, but he admits: “The business is not going fantastically.

“Everybody says we have an amazing place, and it’s a business everybody loves, but they don’t spend enough to keep it going.”

The redevelopment scheme came as no surprise.

He signed a three-year lease last May, but is not looking further ahead. “It’s hard going. If I am forced to shut, it saves me making the decision.”

The shop was established by Alan’s brother, John, who left 17 years ago, and Joe Mhlongo, who remains a partner. Alan has been involved since the mid-70s.

The Natural Bed Shop, or the Futon Shop as it was known then, became a neighbour in 1987. Its origins can be traced backed to the Freewheelin’ shop in Nether Green, which opened in 1974, then Bringing It All Back Home, another nod to Bob Dylan, in Glossop Road in 1978.

Owner Peter Benyon said: “We’ll certainly carry on. Business is good.”

The company designs and makes beds – 80 per cent sold over the internet. It has just sold 40 beds to a hotel in Tahiti.

Redevelopment comes as no surprise, either, to Peter. He is looking is to relocate to somewhere nearby and larger.

The shops are near West One Plaza, which is dominated by bars and restaurants.

Primesite Ltd is applying for council permission to redevelop 162-170 Devonshire Street. Its agents are Coda Planning Ltd.

Coda planning director Adam Murray said: “This is a block which is falling into a state of disrepair and without action its long-term use will be compromised.

“However, we believe that the character and cultural significance of the street is crucial and we want to retain that, so we have worked with our architects to achieve a design that respects this character but also creates internal space more suitable for use.

“Therefore the future appearance of the new building will be almost identical to the current structure and allow occupancy of the building to continue.

There would be 14 homes, with a roof garden and courtyard, which “will significantly improve this part of the area which is suffering an increase in anti-social behaviour.”

Mr Murray said “a very successful and constructive pre-planning meeting” had been held with the council.