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Merrie Meets ETCO & The 549 Club

Words by Ryan Bell

Images by Emily Ryalls

“We wanted the barbers, the shoe cleaning service, the clothing, all of it together, we wanted to be the one place where you could come and get, everything taken care of…”

It’s this all under one roof mentality that has steered Aron Hurst-Wilson and Phil Rhodes to open Everything Taken Care Of / The 549 Club - an independent streetwear clothing store/barbershop, sitting on Cross street, a district of Wakefield, hotly becoming an unlikely cosmopolitan hospitality centre, hosting a variety of intriguing eateries in Jose’s Tapas, Corarima and Gyros Bros, with craft ale hot-spot Jolly Boys Tap on the bottom corner and 80s style speakeasy RBT Video just around the corner to wash it down.

Emily Ryalls and I joined the lads for a chat about the shop, which opened this past December, what drove them to pursue the venture and what are some of their ambitions going forward.

It’s a typical February day in West Yorkshire when we meet; grey, dismal, siling it down with rain. It's Valentine’s day in fact. Thankfully, the interior of ETCO cuts a much brighter, inviting space than the broken cloud outside; a carefully curated rack of fresh t-shirts, vintage sportswear and immaculate white trainers are laid out tastefully beneath pastel-coloured walls, as a bold Keith Haring print looms over the front desk. The pair laugh as they recall thinking the space was much larger when they first began to decorate, even initially planning to have a tattoo parlour element, however it became clear that due to quickly health and safety complications and the need for the space to be shoppable as Aron puts it, made that an impossibility.

It's clear from the start of the conversation that despite their individual passions (Aron runs ETCO, Phil leads The 549 Club) there’s a ton of overlap in their ambitions that make the space sharing work. Creating an attractive and friendly atmosphere seems to be key to the success for both of them, with Phil mentioning the sociable vibe a barbershop often generates, through meeting new people and forming connections with familiar faces. “The barbers are always a nice place, where you get people through your door, it makes your day pass” adds Aron, who’s already begun to garner his own more interpersonal clientele “It’s a place to come, there’s a lad who comes in here and just talks streetwear to me!"

“With a business like this, not so much the barbering part but more so the retail, you’ve got to give people a reason to come here rather than buy online” mentions Phil, and it's true, the nature of online shopping and the ease of next day delivery means physical retail therapy isn’t as prevalent as it once was; “I was that kid on a Saturday, who’d go to Leeds with his mates, see something, try it on and think, I'm having that! And you’d be wearing it that night” recalls Aron.

Because of this, ETCO have been conscious and intelligent in their stock choices and ambitious in what they want to produce. The stock available currently is less extensive but more focused, and with a clear ethical view on most of the products, such as Jollies socks, who donate a pair to a homeless shelter for every pair sold and Elliot trainers, which are 100% recyclable and made with vegan friendly leather with a climate positive footprint. As well as stocking fellow Yorkshire clothing label Heavy Goods, the shop has its own range including the brilliant “Miners League Baseball” range, an inventive hybrid of fictional US baseball team design with historic, local mining culture. “That’s all important to me, my family is rooted in that particular local history” Aron said about the mining communities “All the towns outside Wakefield all had pits, the lifestyle revolved around that industry and then you see the impact it had when it moved away, and I want to pay homage to it”.

The city is clearly a strong inspiration for the pair, with Aron referencing a long-term goal would have his gear actually produced in Wakefield at some point in the near future. “I wanna keep things as close to home as I can. I wanna do stuff like women’s and kids' football kits, but less generic and basic, but polka dots or houndstooth something a bit more interesting! But for that I need manufacturing eventually.” “I like this city; it makes me angry when people slag it off when they’ve not been out for years!” laughs Phil, and it speaks to a wider point about the old and the new colliding in our town. For every high street retailer falling to the online market, there are a handful of hopeful smaller businesses trying to make it The Merrie City, despite Westgate strip being long past its heyday of the 80s and 90s, there are numerous nightlife gems scattered across the city centre deserved of attention and custom.

The conversation turns to music, and it’s clearly a shared love between the two, with a turntable sitting nicely upon the front desk and as we speak, an eclectic mix of hip-hop, RnB and indie rock plays over the speaker system (not ideal recording an interview though, but I don’t mention it as so not kill the vibe). Concert tickets and gig posters are scattered across the walls of the lower end of the shop, and the lads chat with vigour about their live music experiences over the years.

“The best gigs are the intimate ones” mentions Phil at one stage, which leads the chat on to the desire for ETCO to host gigs and events themselves. With their first Artwalk on the horizon and lofty ambitions to host a variety of individual events such as exhibitions, DJ sets and live performances, the desire to have everything taken care of seems to stretch beyond clothing tells Aron “Yeah, for us it is a barbershop, it is a clothes shop, but we do want it to be a bit of hub”.

Places like ETCO won’t save the high street, largely because the high street is pretty much unrecognisable to what it used to be. However, what it looks likely to do, is provide Wakefield with another unique independent shop, tucked away in a thriving, hip corner of the city centre, where experience and attention are appreciated as much as the apparel on offer.

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