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Devonshire Street shops: Controversial site stands empty five years on

The site of a much-loved second-hand bookshop is still standing empty five years after a controversial application was made to redevelop it.

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The former site of Rare & Racy.

The three properties at the end of Devonshire Street housed Rare & Racy from 1969 to July 2017, when it was forced to close by developers.

In March 2015 site owners Primesite UK were granted permission to demolish the units, which date from 1827, and replace them with a similar building containing flats and ground floor shops.

Little work on the building has taken place since then, and the original planning application expired in March 2018. Any development would now need a new application to the Council.

"The building has had absolutely nothing done to it, other than it appears they've ripped the floor out inside," Kirsteen Hardie of neighbouring boutique Syd and Mallory told Now Then. "I'm not sure what purpose this serves."

Now Then contacted the Sheffield-based Primesite UK but they refused to comment on the future of the Devonshire Street site or even confirm whether they still own it.

CODA Planning, who acted as agents for the application, told us that they're "no longer involved", while Sheffield City Council said they were unable to comment as the site is not in their control.

In 2015 the Council's Deputy Leader said their "hands were tied" due to strict planning laws, and that if the Council tried to block the application they could end up facing huge legal bills.

At the time of the planning application 21,936 people signed a petition to save the building and the bookshop, which Jarvis Cocker told The Guardian would be "a crime to destroy."

"They say if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London then the whole place will collapse," he wrote in 2015. "I kind of feel if Rare & Racy leave Devonshire Green then a special part of Sheffield will collapse."

Novelist Philip Hensher described it as "the greatest second-hand bookshop in the world", and remembered how they "tried to drive their customers away with a gramophone playing the farthest reaches of modern jazz."

As part of the campaign to save the building, street artist Phlegm painted an elaborate galleon across the front of the shop. When it closed in 2017, this was replaced by a still-visible skull and crossbones above the shop sign.

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Rare & Racy closed in July 2017.

The closure of Rare & Racy reflects a wider decline in Sheffield's retail sector, which lost nearly 18% of its shops between 2014 and 2019. Specialist shops and restaurants have been particularly hard hit, and the trend is likely to be exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown.

Devonshire Street and the neighbouring Division Street are known for their predominantly independent businesses, but recent years have seen an influx of big chain brands like Taco Bell and BrewDog.

"The character of Division Street has diminished a lot," said Hardie. "It's gone from being a real destination for independent shops to basically just chains."

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