Posted On: 16 Oct 2018

Al's Emporium is one of the community of great independent retailers that have their business at The Piece Hall. We interviewed owner Simone, to find out more about the unique antique shop. 


Tell us about the people behind Al’s Emporium?

I’m Simone and Al is my husband. He was originally a television engineer in the 80s and one of his customers was Percy Shaw –  of the cat’s eyes! He then went on to fix ATM machines for an accountancy firm, but he completely changed his career when he met me. I came from a legal background doing wills and probate for a big city firm. I was there seven years and then went self employed as a will writer. I met Alan and he came into the business doing wills too. We noticed that there was a niche market when we did probate, that when people passed away, they needed trusted representation for house clearances. So with all that combined we fell into this industry and started our own antique shop.

It’s a family business through and through! We have two children, Ethan who is seven and Eva is five and they love to muck in. Ethan thinks he’s a shopkeeper, he helps customers and seems to make more money than we do! He get’s small tips from the customers after they’ve purchased their items as a thank you for being such a handy helper. Mostly he buys ice cream, but he’s got his eye on a drone with a camera from Totally Awesome – but he may need to save a few more pennies for that one!


What made you move to The Piece Hall?

We had a shop in Todmorden called Al’s Emporium at Todmorden and we were there for two and a half years. Todmorden is a lovely place, but the footfall fell off – pardon the pun. We were about to go back to selling online when we came to The Piece Hall and saw an opportunity.  

I used to come to The Piece Hall all the time with my Nan back when the markets were on, and hadn’t been back since the remodel. We looked at a lot of places, did a lot of research and felt the high street was starting to die out with people wanting to visit a destination to go shopping instead. We decided that if it was going to be a destination then we would like to be a part of The Piece Hall. We love that people can come here have a coffee, have a wander around and stumble upon the shop. If it was going to work, it was going to work at The Piece Hall.


Where do you pick up the antiques?

Mostly from house clearances, but we also get a lot of offers from people who come into the shop who are downsizing, as well as bits and pieces online and from other dealers.


You sell on behalf of others too. How does this work?

We currently have 82 cabinets that we hire out for £45 per month (with an initial refundable deposit). A lot of the sellers are what we call ‘kitchen table crafters’ or fans of craft making with no way of financing their own ‘bricks and mortar’ shop. So, this is a great way for them to showcase their wares and steer people towards their own Etsy or online shop. We have a few seasoned antiques dealers as well, so it is an eclectic mix. We don’t take commission either, whereas a lot of dealers do, so whatever they make goes back to them. The cabinets have been so popular that we now have a waiting list which seems to get longer every day.


How do you help the cabinet sellers price Items?

Just experience over the years, I remember when I used to go to the auctions as a teenager and buy a box for a pound, back in the day you could get a box for a pound. Talking to different dealers means we get an idea of how much things go for and we can give a bit of guidance to our sellers. Al does spend half his life watching antique programmes too, not that I am bitter in any way! The whole Sky box is full up with Antiques Roadshow, Flog It and Antiques Road Trip!


You have plans to expand the shop for the second time! Tell us about that.

We started out with one unit  at The Piece Hall but the demand for more cabinets was so great we had to move into a second unit next door, and we’ve just agreed to take on a third unit at the other side too from 1 November! Everyone who is on the waiting list will be coming with us.


What are the oldest and most unusual items you’ve sold?

The oldest was a Jacobean jewellery box, but we didn’t get a lot for it as it was damaged.

The most unusual was when we bought a box of stuff from an auction and found inside a couple of pairs of WWII Red Cross pure wool long johns. We only paid a couple of quid for them but when we put them on Ebay they went for £60 each. I messaged the lady buyer and asked why she’d bought some vintage long johns and she said she likes to wear them in winter!


Are you both collectors yourselves?  

Yes! I used to collect Star Trek memorabilia, but I was not a Trekkie – no dressing up! Ships, clocks, mugs, you name it I had it. I’ve stopped now but I do still have some bits of the collection left. I also have a 1980s remote-control Knight Rider car that is my pride and joy! We all have our own thing in the family that we collect, Eva collects teddies and Ethan likes fossils. Al has a unique collection of old coins and bed pans! Don’t ask me why, he just does.


If you could travel back in time to a specific era to live in which one would it be?

Mine would be the 1950’s, because the style was quite futuristic, the clothes and style of furniture were amazing, you could look like Audrey Hepburn and get away with it. Al would travel back to the 1930’s as he loves Art Deco, from the furniture to the buildings!


What has been your favourite experience at The Piece Hall so far?

It has to be The Antiques Roadshow for obvious reasons! It was exciting because all of the valuers came into the shop the day before and actually bought items from the cabinets. It was a little concerning because it made you wonder what they know about the item and how much it’s worth! One bought some old teeth, and another bought a brooch. It was very cool.  Al was very excited about Fiona Bruce too!


What’s next for Al’s Emporium?

We recently had Antiques Road Trip visit us with Phillip Serrell! He complimented us by saying we had a fabulous and unique shop. He did buy something, but you will have to wait and see! It will be airing on the BBC in February 2019.

I’m really excited about the prospect of having an auction in the courtyard, as I have fond memories of going to them since the age of fifteen. We are hoping to do this next summer when the weather is good and will be giving 10% of our profits to the The Piece Hall Trust too.  

It just keeps getting better and better as we raise our profile. We have a lot of customers who followed us from Todmorden, but we’re also noticing different people from around the UK and even around the world. We have recently relaunched our website where you can reserve items and even buy straight away. We have a great online presence so please follow and like us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

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The Piece Hall heritage regeneration project is also supported by Garfield Weston Foundation and The Wolfson Foundation.
The Piece Hall is independently managed by The Piece Hall Trust, a registered charity, number 1156948. Registered in England and Wales, number 08906735.
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