A look inside Paperxclips, Belfast’s unique queer barbershop and bookshop

Paperxclips owners, Ren and Fern, aim to create an LGBTQ+ safe space with books, haircuts and community events.

The interior of Paperxclips, Belfast's queer barbers and bookshop. It shows a room with wooden chairs around a table, and a Pride flag on the wall. There are also shelves full of books.
Image: @paperxclipsbooks via Instagram

Part bookshop, part barbershop, enter a new queer space to the Belfast scene: Paperxclips. The owners, Ren and Fern, opened the shop in the summer of 2022, deciding to fuse these two services to form a bold new venture.

It’s not just books and haircuts offered in this space, they also serve coffee and host events. With more and more queer venues facing closures, safe LGBTQ+ spaces are becoming more important than ever. 

A study by University College London found that the amount of LGBTQ+ venues in the English capital is shrinking, with the number of venues falling from 121 in 2006 to 51 in 2017, a net loss of 58%. The situation in Ireland is no brighter, as can be seen with the recent closure of Dublin LGBTQ+ bar All My Friends.

The owners of Paperxclips are doing things a little differently, aiming to create a safe, queer space that is not defined by spending money. They comment that the vision behind the enterprise was “to make the shop a sort of hub for queer services in Belfast”. 

“We want people to be able to comfortably spend time here even if they don’t want to buy books. We think it’s important to have a sober space where queer people can make friends and spend time without feeling the need to spend a lot of money.

“We offer haircuts and hot drinks on a pay what you can basis, and in the colder months we encourage people to come to the shop if they can’t heat their homes, and to use our electricity and WiFi if needed.”

Despite social and financial pressures forcing many queer venues to close, LGBTQ+ bookstores in particular are standing the test of time. The pair comment on the legacy of queer bookshops, including those like Gays The Word, Category Is, and Hares & Hyenas, as being fundamental to their growth.

“We definitely see Paperxclips as building on the work of other amazing queer bookshops,” they said.

“Other queer booksellers have been very generous with their time and advice and we wouldn’t have gotten close to where we are without them.

“I think we’re definitely putting our own spin on the concept of queer bookshops by putting a lot of emphasis on making it a community space as much as possible,” they added.



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Part of making it a community space means making the shop itself both physically accessible as well as somewhere people feel safe and comfortable to be themselves.

They explain, “As disabled and neurodivergent queers ourselves we try to accommodate everyone’s access needs as much as possible, such as providing earplugs for people getting their haircut.

“We’ve had doorways widened to accommodate wheelchairs, and made sure there is step free access from the street to the store.”

Since its opening, Paperxclips has expanded to host a range of events, encompassing everything from poetry nights and zine clubs to ‘queer yarn’ and community potluck dinners.  

The sheer range of events means there’s something for everyone, and speaks to Ren and Fern’s vision of an inclusive space for all the LGBTQ+ community.



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They comment on their plans for future growth, “Our vision (or dream) for the future is to move the shop closer to the city centre. While we love our current venue, it is not easy to find for people unfamiliar with the area, and we see this reflected in the demographics of people that visit the shop.

“We would love to make the shop more welcoming to younger people, as well as people from outside of Belfast. We would also love to someday be in a position to have the shop open more often, and to expand the amount of service we can offer, but for now, we think we’re doing an okay job!”

In a time when financial pressures weigh heavily on independent businesses, the future of queer spaces is precarious at best. Striking a balance between staying afloat and providing that welcoming, accessible safe haven is a delicate one. 

Spaces like Paperxclips are rare. It’s not just a place to spend money or grab a coffee, but a living, breathing and evolving community, where young queer people are free to come and simply exist, exactly as they are. 

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