Sheffield’s oldest Atkinsons department store through the years as it celebrates its 150th anniversary

Atkinsons, located on The Moor in Sheffield, first opened its doors to delighted customers in 1872.

150 years and three centuries later, it is still going strong.

Under the watchful leadership of the Atkinson family, the city’s oldest department store has become a Sheffield treasure.

Read more: Sheffield’s John Lewis to be demolished and replaced by a park

Known and loved for miles around, it has come a long way from humble beginnings. As current manager Nicholas Atkinson explains, the store began life as a small haberdashery.

Opened by his great-grandfather, the store sold ribbons, buttons, and similar items. “It was a pretty small deal,” says Nicholas. But even before reaching its current size, Atkinsons quickly developed a solid reputation that it never lost.

Atkinsons photographed in 1922

Over the years, his great-grandfather bought neighboring shops, building his collection on The Moor. Nicholas adds: “Towards the end of that century he turned it all into one big store, which had a glass roof to let light in on all three floors.

“All three floors were adorned with flowers, which were tended by a gardener.”

And so, Sheffield’s very first department store was born.

Nicholas’ ancestor became a major retailer in Sheffield. He went through the First World War, before dying in 1929. His sons succeeded him.

Atkinsons photographed in 1872
Atkinsons photographed in 1872

As Nicholas explains, the second-generation owners were then tasked with running the store during World War II, which brought with it many challenges. Initially, part of the store was used to help the war effort, but production ceased after the site was hit by a firebomb.

During the Blitz, in December 1940, a bomb intended for the steelworks was dropped too soon, landing on Atkinsons and destroying the entire store. “We had nothing left, absolutely nothing. The only thing left was the pennies in the balance.”

Undeterred, the family vowed to start over, but it wasn’t until 1960 that they were able to rebuild the store on its old site.

Atkinsons photographed in 1940
Atkinsons photographed in 1940

By this point, leadership had been taken over by Nicholas’ father and uncle. In a stroke of genius, her father struck a deal with his friend, businessman John Sainsbury, who at the time owned several grocery stores in London.

It was agreed that the grocery chain should open a link store with Atkinsons, which later opened in 1974.

Speaking about the deal, Nicholas said: “It was a fabulous arrangement because we have a fairly large store – 75,000 square feet and 42 departments – and we were able to have a supermarket on the first floor. It gave us two another million potential customers per year.”

But in April 2000, the store was seduced by a promoter.

Atkinsons photographed in 1983
Atkinsons photographed in 1983

“We lost two million customers overnight, but undeterred, we took back the space they had and the parking lot and installed small services in that area,” says Nicholas.

In the years that followed, Atkinsons faced several other challenges.

The 2007 financial crisis had “a pretty big impact”, as did the opening of the Meadowhall shopping center in 1990.

But nothing has been as damaging as Covid-19.

Nicholas explains: “Trading continued as normal until 2020 when Covid hit, and it was two years of disaster for us. The first year we were closed for 26 weeks, and the second year we were closed. closed for twelve weeks.

Atkinsons photographed in 1922
Atkinsons photographed in 1922

“So many people have told me Covid is worse than war.”

The 72-year-old adds: “I don’t know what it was like during the war, but we certainly found Covid devastating.”

He continues: “We have returned to some form of normality, but nothing like it was all those years ago.”

Nevertheless, the store has reached its 150th anniversary, a “magnificent achievement”, as Nicholas calls it.

While other department stores have opened and closed in the city centre, with John Lewis being one of the most notable losses, Atkinsons remains.

Nicholas considers it Sheffield’s last department store. In addition, it is undoubtedly a great success for independent businesses in the city.

As well as being independent, Atkinsons is keen to support other like-minded businesses.

Atkinsons pictured in 2021

Nicholas says: “The independents are a special place, and I think the people of Sheffield like to trust us, and we like to support them in return.”

Thanks to the dedication of the Atkinson family over the years, the department store remains a force to be reckoned with on The Moor, which is currently undergoing regeneration.

While the director is confident in his business, he has refrained from making bold statements about its future.

When asked if Sheffield could expect the store to see another 150 years, he simply chuckled.

But just because he doesn’t know what the future holds doesn’t mean he hasn’t planned it well.

Nicholas, who is currently the only member of his family working in the business, said: “I have a very good team of young people that I bring into running the business and I have my own children who could enter in the business. as well.”

For now, he is simply enjoying the celebration of the anniversary year, which will be marked by a series of celebrations in the department store that is as iconic as it is historic.

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