Recession’s new craze for vintage

Sheffield Antiques Quarter Spring Market: Ellen Westerman (9) looking at a stall
Sheffield Antiques Quarter Spring Market: Ellen Westerman (9) looking at a stall

Around the backstreets of Lowfield, Highfield, Heeley, and Sharrow, and the inner city thoroughfares of London Road, Abbeydale Road and now Queens Road, there are already around 250 traders in Sheffield’s Antiques Quarter.

“That’s loads of new cafes, along with people selling retro, vintage, militaria, arts, salvage or, of course, antiques,” notes SAQ supremo Hendrika Stephens. “They tell me sales are up 10%, which is interesting in a time of recession.”

National Antiques Week saw Sheffield Antiques Quarter celebrating with a street market on Clyde Road on Sunday, with 30 traders, musicians and local centres also open to promote the quarter’s green credentials.

“We are using National Antiques Week to highlight the green, local aspects of the quarter as well as supporting and taking pride in Sheffield,” says Hendrika.

Trader Lorna Foulds says: “We know there’s not much money around at the moment, but things at an antiques fair are not really expensive and it is green, it’s recycling, passing it on to the next person.

“All antique ware has a story and that story starts again when it’s passed on to someone else.”

Elsa Greaves and husband Howard have been selling antiques and pre-loved furniture (as we should say now, rather than second-hand) for 40 years.

“This is a vibrant part of Sheffield, but a lot of people just drive through it,” says Elsa. “We’d like to take it back to how it was in the 70s and 80s when it was known around the world as a centre for antiques.”

In those days, traders from Europe, the USA and Australia would come every month and fill their vans by travelling along Abbeydale and London Road.

Buying pre-owned was often a financial decision then, but now buyers are also taking on the idea of reusing quality goods, with the associated reduction of manufacturing and transport costs. “Antiques are one long recycle,” says Elsa.

The council and others have tried to promote the idea of a Sheffield Antiques Quarter before, to benefit the city, the public and the traders themselves.

“There’s not much exporting now, but I’d say there are more people selling than there were 40 years ago,” she says, adding that ‘brown’ (aka old wooden) furniture is making a comeback, often to get brightly painted up to suit modern tastes.

“And the excitement here is that you never know what you’re going to find. There could always be that special piece hidden in a corner that everybody else has missed and is worth tens times more than you paid for it.”

Digital artist Mark Turner says that a street market brings new customers into the quarter. “There are more shops popping up all the time, it’s all a bit eclectic and mixed up, with different types of buildings, which all give this area its character.”

Hendrika Stephens took on the task of promoting the quarter about a year ago, after opening her own art gallery.

“We started to chat, and we realised a lot of people in Sheffield didn’t know we were here. We said we should all be pulling together, it seemed ridiculous not to push the quarter a bit.”

Hendrika consulted with community groups and the council, set up a website and has plans for a magazine promoting the area. Hopefully there will be brown Antiques Quarter signs for tourists, and banners along the main roads.

“We’ve created a destination here for Sheffield, and that’s got to be good for the city, but the council can’t do everything, so we have to find it within ourselves.”

Crowd funding, where an internet campaign encourages locals to give financial support to local causes, is a possible next move.

It is estimated over 3,000 people attended Sunday’s market, a measure of Sheffield’s interest in all things vintage, retro and pre-loved. The next street market is planned for September, but Hendrika and her colleagues have their sights set on the future.

“I’d say to the people of Sheffield, watch this space. Over the next five years we’d like to turn this into an amazing area.”

Antiques & auctions, page 20.