The owner of Sheffield’s latest antiques arcade, Sally Mastin, describes the Vintedge centre in Nether Edge as being like a department store. “It’s like ‘Are You Being Served?’” she notes, imaginatively.
The televised Grace Brothers store did not specialise in G Plan furniture, vinyl records, real ale, vintage hairdressing, Sheffield-made craft goods and electric guitars, however, and Sally and her 10 or so co-workers are of a rather different mindset to Young Mr Grace.
“You’ve got to make a living, but our main driver isn’t to make lots of money,” says Paul Infanti, of the department store’s Electric Candlelight Cafe. “We’re doing it for love, not money.”
Sheffield Antiques Quarter is very much a growing concern, driven by people like Paul and Sally and hundreds of others who prefer setting up their own small business in a field they love, rather than taking orders from someone else.
SAQ activist and publicist Hendrika Stephens reckons that over a dozen new businesses set up in the quarter last year, with no signs of that resurgence slowing, although Hendrika is worried that at present all the SAQ promotional work is carried out on a voluntary basis.
“We’ve started something that’s having a really positive impact, but I’m worried if we can’t hold it together we’re going to lose that oomph,” she says.
The quarter has set up a crowdfunding site to raise £18,000 for signs, banners, information boards and art projects to promote the area locally and nationally. Over £800 has been raised so far and Hendrika is hopeful of another step forward soon with a £5,000 grant from Experian Community Funding.
Hendrika stresses that the council has helped a lot with advice and support, but she’d like all local businesses to support the scheme too, as a better promoted antiques quarter would improve trade for everyone in the area. This is the effect Sally Mastin and her colleagues have noted: the refurbished and rebranded Broadfield pub next door effectively made Vintedge viable because the area was bringing in more potential customers, and the arcade is now selling the wares of over 30 separate businesses.
“We’re all helping it get back to how it used to be, when this area used to be renowned for antiques around the country,” says Sally.
The approach has changed however. In the past, dealers with lorries from London and beyond would scour London Road for shops selling Victorian furniture from house clearances. Now SAQ sellers may just rent a room - or even a shelf - at an arcade to sell trinkets old or new that have taken the seller’s fancy. And there are plenty of customers for such a service,
“People like diversity,” says Rachel Armitage, who runs the Peachy@Purdy’s waxing and massage treatment rooms, alongside Jane Infanti’s Purdy’s 1950s style hair salon. “People can come and spend a whole afternoon here. It’s a social place.”
That’s very different to certain other local shopping venues, say the Vintedge shopkeepers. “The big corporations are making all the High Streets faceless and boring. It’s much better to see people doing their own little businesses. People are getting fed up of big corporations - I think it’s the zeitgeist,” says Paul Infanti, as his customers checked their smartphone dictionaries.
And Sheffield could do better, say the Vintedge sellers. “Here, all we have is a High Street full of phone shops,” says Frankly My Deer art and craft dealer Karla Gabbitas. “And Ecclesall Road is full of betting shops.”
“Cities move,” says Paul Infanti, hinting that Sheffield’s places to be are now more likely to be found in S7 than S1, 9 or 11.
Vintedge plans to hold an outdoor craft market as the weather improves, and to extend opening to Tuesdays as well as Wednesday to Sunday.
And if the Sheffield Antiques Quarter reaches its target, publicising the area properly will bring in tourists from all over the UK and beyond, say the traders, particularly if it links with the nearby and also expanding Sheffield’s Chinatown.
“We could compete with Manchester,” says Rachel Armitage. “Or Barcelona,” adds Paul Infanti.