New book tells history of department store

Nick Atkinson
Nick Atkinson

A new book celebrates the city’s only independent department store that now stands proudly in the newly revitalised Moor.

Atkinsons is the small drapery founded 140 years ago that is now one of the biggest family-owned shops in the UK with 36 departments and four restaurants spread across 75,000 sq ft of trading floor.

The tome charts everything from the day John Atkinson – a one-time Cole Brothers sales assistant – opened the place to the shop’s 21st century future at the heart of The Moor’s current regeneration.

In between, shoppers and staff recall the building’s destruction during the Blitz, the opening of the current store in 1960 and the time a baby crocodile was let loose!

That was the thirties. The animal escaped during an in-store zoo display. “We found it dead in the lift shaft,” notes Sidney Wright, the store’s electrician’s assistant at the time.

A small chapter is also devoted to Muffin The Mule, the children’s ride first installed in 1950 and still working today – for the original 2p charge.

“Atkinsons is more than a Sheffield shop, it’s a Sheffield legend,” says author Neil Anderson.

“You don’t speak to many Sheffielders who haven’t shopped in there at some point. It’s a destination venue. I just felt it was about time its history was recorded.”

The current store opened in 1960, two decades after the original was was flattened by German bombs.

And while it has not faced anything like German bombs, it has survived and thrived in the face of other potential problems such as the opening of Meadowhall and the global recession.

“When Meadowhall opened in 1900 I did an interview with Look North,” says Nicholas, current director and great grandson of Atkinson’s founder, who lives in Dore. “They said The Moor would not exist in five years. I said ‘We will wait and see’.”

Atkinsons responded to the challenge with a £1 million facelift in 1992 followed by another £1 million makeover in 2000. Now, with the current regeneration, including the new market, the family is confident their store will continue to thrive.

“We are aware of the rise of internet shopping and are addressing this,” says Nicholas.

“However, we feel that we can offer the public something very special when they visit our store.

“We are a niche retailer in a very cloned high street. Quality, value and service were implicit in my great grandfather’s business and that same ethos remains today.”

The Story Of Atkinsons Of Sheffield available in The Star shop, priced at £9.95.