end of an era for london’s most celebrated magazine shop

Hikmat Mohammed

The chapter of Wardour News comes to a close for Raj Patel & Co.

Wardour News, a mecca to magazine collectors, fashion students and industry insiders, after 34 iconic years on Wardour Street, is shutting its doors forever on 25 May. The celebrated newsagent turned magazine shop has become a safe haven for print titles big and small: Harper’s Bazaar, Self Service, Antidote, Re-Edition, Noctis etc.

Raj Patel, founder of Wardour News has been the life and soul of the magazine boutique, but also an inner-city celebrity. Patel credits his loyal customers for the success of his shop, which he runs with his brother Ash and friend Hitesh Patel. Not a dull day has gone by for Raj, confessing that he’s “never had a bad memory of anything in this shop”.

In such a bitter-sweet moment, Raj doesn’t have a solution to how this can be stopped for future instances, but he doesn’t wish it upon anyone else, saying, “I hope somebody realises, the landlord or anybody, that it is very hard to leave the place after such a long time.” Wardour News started off with big top-shelf names back in its heyday, but gradually started distributing more niche titles across the shop. Raj recalls the day he took on i-D, ever “since then I am doing very very well with i-D, every i-D has had very strong sales”.

The Wardour News trio have done for magazines what the British Fashion Council has done for upcoming designers. “All the small publishers, we have supported them, I feel sorry for them that I am leaving them,” Raj explains as the saddest part of the whole situation.

Even when speaking to Wardour News’ competitors, they showered Raj with compliments for paving the way for magazines shops.

“Raj was doing something different despite having a traditional newsagent set-up. He stocked Hello magazine to The Gentlewoman. It's an Aladdin's cave,” explained Jeremy Leslie, creative director and founder of magazine boutique magCulture, “he was able to give the magazines love and care, and a home. He knew every magazine in the shop.”

“Raj was doing something different despite having a traditional newsagent set-up. He stocked Hello magazine to The Gentlewoman. It's an Aladdin's cave.” -- Jeremy Leslie, creative director and founder of magazine boutique magCulture.

The aim of magCulture for Leslie was to build a space that is more selective in its distribution of magazines, but also a place that cares about the presentation of magazines and took care of them. “Generally local newsagents, and this is not an aim at Wardour News, but others particularly do not look after their stock, which is a problem at hand,” Leslie continued, “The actual presentation of them is poor in shops, we need to give it care and that is what the retail trade needs to focus on in order to move forward.”

Wardour News was visited by the likes of Leslie, and possibly every industry insider, because of Patel’s dedication to bringing in new titles across the pond.

The inner-city of Soho has shaped London’s culture, such as the electric night-life at Limelight club responsible for Boy George, Marilyn and Culture Club’s rise to fame.

Soho has been robbed of its community and has rather turned into a game of Monopoly to test who can own the most chains on the block. Wardour Street is already filled with more than six coffee and restaurant chains that serve washed-out lattes and microwaved-like food in the name of culture.

“There is no space for modest financial ambitions anymore in Soho because of the rent,” said Lucy Moore of Claire du Rouen Books over email. Moore took over CdR Books after the sudden passing of Claire back in 2011. Post-brexit, it is the most important time in London where people want to run businesses not for money, but for creativity and release of socio-political angst. Small independent specialty boutiques are a big factor of how London has succeeded as a city of culture, but this path is constantly threatened by bigger corporations.

“They have a better range, they are much more personal and they have history,” said Moore on why customers keep coming back to independent shops like hers and Raj’s. Back in 2015, Moore asked Raj to be in her Room & Book fair at the ICA, explaining that she, “just wanted mountains of magazines in there! And he looked at me like I was crazy.”

Recalling her favourite moment at Wardour News, Moore talks about the time, “He (Raj) also once ran down the street chasing me because I’d left my bank card in his shop, but I’d also forgotten to pay for my magazines and he was furious with me. I just loved his shop even more.”

Up and down the country students from art universities come to Wardour News to access a world that is beyond reach on social media platforms and local newsagents. Wardour News has also been a place where kids fresh out of school come to distribute their own magazines.

“Wardour News was always a place to escape -- whenever I was so tired interning I could go there and it was a reminder that it would all be worth it one day,” said Emma Cope, Fashion Communication student at Birmingham City University. Cope admitted over email that she would roughly commute for 2 hours sometimes just to get her hands on magazines.

“Wardour News was always a place to escape -- whenever I was so tired interning I could go there and it was a reminder that it would all be worth it one day.” -- Emma Cope, Fashion Communication student at Birmingham City University.

In the politics of Soho, politics is the only hope the city has. Ahead of the elections taking place on the May 3rd, Adam Hug, Westminster’s Labour Councillor responded to Soho’s gradual gentrification back in March, saying, “If the Council can provide special planning protection for elite private members clubs it can surely find a way to protect the live-music venues, LGBTI community venues and other small businesses that keep Soho vibrant and interesting.”

When asked the question of how magazine shops can go forward from this sad situation, Moore said, “I am not sure they can. If my beloved Wardour News can’t do it, then who can?”