Fred Aldous: The family run arts & crafts store

Explore one of the longest established family-run stores stocking arts, crafts and haberdashery materials.

By Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Meet Paul Walker, the fifth generation to run Fred Aldous arts and crafts shop in Manchester. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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How was Fred Aldous founded?

It was set up in 1886 by my great, great grandfather, so I’m fifth generation. That was Fred Aldous the First and he started in Manchester selling cane from a hand cart on the backstreets of Manchester for the cotton industry in Manchester for all the basket weavers that were weaving baskets that were used within the cotton industry. That developed over the years and eventually he got premises there. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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In about the 1920s, just after the First World War, his son, Fred the Second, my great grandfather, had noticed a little gap in the market for craft materials, all the different tools people were using and they were kind of just adding products as they went along based on customer requests. This just developed, and we built up all of the products over time.

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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To this day, we have about 30,000 products. We are more of department store that covers all of the crafts materials from art, craft materials, haberdashery and we provide to an amazing array of people from eight to eighty that just love making. And that's what we’re all about, providing those materials for people to make things. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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What’s the experience in store like?

We pride ourselves on the knowledge that we have. We have a lot of really experienced staff that have been with us a long time and they’ve all kind of got their own niche. We’ve either got an illustrator, a fine artist or graphic designer. What underpins all of that is a passion for creativity, so by working at Fred’s you kind of get exposed to all these other products that are perhaps not in your field but by osmosis you sort learn and pick up all of this. So, when people come in for that, they’re not just going to be reading it off the back of a packet. The majority of the time, we know a lot about them

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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The experience when you come goes back to making bricks and mortar retail relevant and with the materials that we sell. When you come into Manchester, you should be hit by colour. We’re really strong believers in a really vibrant setting. Lots of colour. And on our ground floor, that’s where we have all of our design-led gifts, so that’s where you’ll find all the stationery, Japanese stationery, notebooks, amazing cards. We work with some illustrators, artists and designers on product ranges as well, so you’ll find some unique offerings there. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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What you’ll also find...is two vintage photo booths in our Manchester store. Black and white and we have a colour booth, which is a really rare colour booth. The black  and white booth is from 1967 and the colour booth is from the Eighties and we’re passionate about photography, passionate about keeping analogue photography alive and we sell camera film and chemicals. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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Before the Northern Quarter was the Northern Quarter you see today, we were just a small doorway off Piccadilly Gardens basically and there would be non-descript streets. There were no businesses there. There would be wholesale fashion merchants there, but there were no bars. Obviously now we’ve got more passing trade, but before people would come to us directly, know where they were going and get there. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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How important is Manchester to your business?

I feel super connected to Manchester and obviously in the North we’ve opened up in Leeds and in Sheffield. We were looking for places that we could support within an hour away. Before we went to Leeds, I wasn’t super knowledgeable about the city, but it’s just an amazing city, so many parallels with Manchester in terms of the creative community, the studios that they have there. It was great. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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...being in the North, it’s very inclusive and hopefully we’re that as
business. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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We want to make an environment where you can walk in and no one’s judging you. You don’t have to be the best artist in the world or the best crafts person or anything like that. You’re not going to walk in and be bombarded with technical terms feel like you’re going to be embarrassed by shopping in here. You’re going to be welcomed with open arms. We just love that fact that people want to make stuff in this day and age. They can come in and we’re interested in everyone’s projects that they’re working on from just sketching the dog to painting the Sistine Chapel and everything in between.

Fred Aldous (21st Century)Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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Do you work with the community?

Yes, we support lots of community-based projects, art schemes where we get a lot of requests every year for donations of materials to help with under-funded community groups. All of those different things. 

Fred Aldous (21st Century) by Dan EdenGreater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

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