Fred Aldous Ltd sells tens of thousands of products from paint and yarn to paper, film cameras, clay and jewellery-making tools, plus a well-curated range of appealing homewares and gifts.
Established in the 1880s in Manchester, where it has a large flagship store in the fashionable Northern Quarter, the family-run company expanded successfully to Leeds in 2015.
Last year the firm bought a unit in Sheffield on Fitzalan Square, which has been extensively revamped as part of the council's £5 million Knowledge Gateway scheme. Hallam University's Institute of Arts stands yards away, providing a ready-made customer base.
Director Mark Aldous, whose great-great-grandfather was the company's founder Fred, told The Star that a ‘soft launch’ of the latest branch had begun.
“We’ve been fitting it out and bringing stock over,” he said.
"We are essentially trading, we’ve got about 20 per cent of the stock in terms of the range. It might take us a while to build up to the full range but we should be there within the next couple of weeks. Eventually everything you see on the website will be available to buy in store. We’re doing customer requests and we’ll do a van every week to top it up, really.”
The Leeds store intensified demand for a Sheffield outlet, while the Aldous family are well aware of statistics showing Sheffield has the most artists' studios outside London.
The Fitzalan Square unit covers three floors – it was formerly a branch of Coral bookmakers, and before that bedding retailer The Sleep Shop. A bold and colourful artwork has been painted by Sheffield street artist Marcus Method above the shop’s sign.
"We’ll trade on the ground floor for six, 12, 18 months until we start bursting at the seams in terms of products, then we’ll probably move upstairs on to the first floor,” said Mark.
Using more of the premises will be ‘dependent on funds’, he explained. “The more sales, then the quicker it will happen.”
The shop has created seven jobs with a mix of part-time and full-time roles. Three members of staff will be in the store each day, and Mark said job advertisements met an enthusiastic response earlier this year.
“We got a few hundred applications for each of the roles,” he said. “We’ve had to disappoint a lot of people, unfortunately.”
The nature of the items it sells means Fred Aldous has fared better than most retailers during the pandemic, and customers have already been visiting in Sheffield, Mark said.
“Over the past few days when we’ve been over and setting it all up, we’ve let customers in and they are very much saying ‘We’ve been waiting patiently for you to open’,” he said.
"There’s definitely been that appetite for us. It’s pretty much a year now since we took the unit and put a sign up so word of mouth has spread.”
The team is working towards full opening hours of 10am to 5pm.
“We’ve got reduced hours so we can pick orders and fill up in the morning, and then do the clean down with regards to Covid in the evening,” said Mark.
“For the next couple of weeks we won’t have the full opening hours. There might just be the odd day when someone’s got to come across to open up so we might just be a shade later.”
One of the top jobs on the list is to print a new batch of Fred Aldous’ popular tote bags – which will now have to read ‘Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield’.
"We do need to order some,” said Mark.
Fred set up the firm in 1886, originally to import cane for the baskets used at Manchester's cotton mills. Eventually the shop diversified into handicrafts as the cotton trade declined.