Edinburgh is a world city, so you'll find here many of the shops you might encounter in London, Lagos or Los Angeles. However, it's also home to the kind of small, independent emporiums that help give a place its unique character. Here are just a few of them. And for the record, these really are our favourite shops. We’ve got no connection financial or otherwise with any of them. They are mostly run by interesting people, doing their own thing and ploughing their own furrow in life. We think they’re just braw and we hope you’ll love them too.
“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese - toasted, mostly”
So said Ben Gunn in Treasure Island written by the Edinburgh-born author, Robert Louis Stevenson. If Stevenson had ever dreamed up a heaven for Gunn, it would surely have looked very much like I J Mellis.
There are three stores in Edinburgh with a large and ever-changing range of Scottish and European cheeses, as well as artisan breads, crackers and more.
The knowledgeable staff will happily guide you through the range and even give you a taste of the many delights. Frankly, we’ve never had a cheese from here that we didn’t like. If you want particular recommendations, try the Auld Reekie, a lightly smoked cow’s milk cheese from Deeside or Hebridean Blue, rich and tangy from the Isle of Mull.
I’m in heaven
Here at Our Edinburgh Friends we consider that walking around bare headed is pretty much the same as walking around bare footed. You can do it but it’s uncomfortable and will make you look uncivilised. Thank goodness then for Fabhatrix.
Much more than just a hat shop, Fabhatrix are real milliners, with a workshop on the premises that turns out individual, hand-crafted designs. Walking round the shop is more akin to being in an art gallery than a place of business. If you’re looking for a hat for that very special occasion, this is your number one destination.
The chaps are equally well catered for, with a range of fedoras, tweed caps, flatties and pork-pies. If you really want to push the boat out, you could even go for a top hat, bicorn or tricorn. As the old advertising slogan had it, “If you want to get ahead, get a hat”.
Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, “Listen mate, life has surface noise.”
A quote there from the late, and much missed, John Peel. And a sentiment that the vinyl junkies here at Our Edinburgh Friends fully appreciate. Which is why you’ll often find us flicking through the racks at Elvis Shakespeare.
However, that’s only part of the story. For not only can you find rare punk singles, long deleted albums by no longer remembered reggae bands, and Japanese imports of Swedish death metal picture discs but it’s also a cracking book store. Where else would you find such gems as, 1001 Nights Without Sex: The Curse Of The Single Girl by Suzanne Schlosberg sharing space with 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein, and yet other tomes that don’t even have numbers in their titles? In the age of the internet, Elvis Shakespeare provides the argument for real bricks and mortar shops.
If you’re not sure what you might like, then have a chat with Dave behind the counter. Even if you don't buy anything, you’re guaranteed to leave smiling.
There’s more inside
Lost in music
Ragamuffin 278 Canongate
Scotland's woolens are renowned across the globe but it's worth noting that not all of it goes into tweeds and tartans. So if you're looking for something that takes that heritage and and turns it into day wear that's a little more colourful and stylish than the norm, Ragamuffin is your kind of store.
Mixing in with the Scottish there's also some fine Irish work and, as a touch of the orient, a range of exquisite jackets made from re-purposed Indian saris.
You'll also find hats, scarves, jewellery and some of the cutest knitted toys you've ever seen - would you believe cuddly pineapples?
And if all the sumptuousness tempts you to dig out the old needles, they also sell some of the finest and funkiest yarns money can buy.
Love wool (find a way)
Knit your blues away
If you are one of life's peacocks and you just love fabulous clothes that burst with colour, then Joyce Forsyth is a designer for you. And if your wardrobe is predominantly grey and black, then you definitely need to come here to get some colour therapy!
All her designs are original and are hand-made using either wool or a wool cotton mix. We love them because they are are richly textured, easy to wear and manage to look fabulous, traditional and cutting edge all at the same time.
The Candlemaker Row shop is also Joyce’s studio and workshop, so it’s more than likely she’ll be working on something as you arrive. If you’re looking for a present for that special someone, or want to treat yourself to a truly memorable souvenir, pop in and have a chat.
A woolen rainbow
Mr Purves St Stephens Street
The late William Purves was a true larger-than-life character. Read his obituary here.
The shop he opened in Stockbridge has served as a museum, a wonderful art installation and a real shop, selling all your oil lamp needs. More recently, it’s only been open on a Saturday but if you do find yourself lucky enough to be passing by when the door is open, do pop in – it's a strange and delightful treasure house of visual delights and the amazing aromas of a bygone age.