There’s something rather nostalgic about old sweet shops, the memories of childhood and no cares in the world, with so much choice of delicious treats set in front of excited eyes it’s a shame they became a dying breed. Yet set in Sheffield’s suburb of Nether Edge there’s The Old Sweet Shop or TOSS as it’s more commonly known by the locals. It’s a place that Willy Wonka would be proud to call his own yet they don’t sell confectionary here they sell everything from arts, crafts and music all by local creative’s. We sat down with Emma Hudson, the owner of TOSS, and over coffee and cake we had a chat about what makes this place so special.
Celebrating TOSS’s sixth birthday this month, I ask Emma how she got the idea to start the business. She starts by telling me ‘it was, it’s difficult to know where to start, I’d just come back to Sheffield I wanted to work for myself really. I just had an idea to be my own boss and it just started from there, didn’t really know what we wanted to do in the beginning. I spoke to my sister-in-law who also thought it was good to open somewhere. We were going to buy a business, an existing gift shop or something we came here and first saw this place was up for rent, it was just an empty shell and we thought why should we spend money buying a business when we can start our own.’ She continues ‘My brother and my sister in law knew Kid Acne, Pete McKee and just start started asking around really of artists friends that they knew and said we’ve just taken this place on would you want to put your art in it, we’ve got an idea to sell work by local artists and it just spiralled from there.’
Fast forward six years, how has Emma found running TOSS as a thriving small business is there still the urge of excitement when it comes to showcasing local artists work?
Without hesitation Emma starts ‘yeah, it’s incredible really. It’s interesting cos it’s always been important to chose work and want to have the stuff I want in as it’s just me on my own now as my brother and sister in law left the business’.
Looking around TOSS is a feast for the eyes, there’s so many different pieces to see. I have to admit I just wanted to touch everything a bit like a kid in a toy shop, though when it comes to deciding on what merchandise fits the bill, Emma admits, ‘obviously there’s a lot of things I want to chose and I look out for people and things that I think wow that’d really fit, but it’s also nice that people can just walk through the door and say I make this. You may never find them, they might not have a website or they just sat at home making something amazing, then they just walk in and say can I put this in? I think it gives it a nice mix of stuff, its stuff that I want and I chose but I don’t want it to be my own personal taste. There’s nothing worse than walking into a shop and you just know it looks like somebody’s living room, because they’ve just chosen everything they want.’
There are several pieces of work I recognise around the place, being from Sheffield I know the works of many local artists and certainly have my own favourites, but when it comes to asking Emma if she has any particular favourites, I’m told that she hates this question! Laughing, she continues ‘I genuinely hate it, because it is hard there’s so many. In Sheffield alone, there are just so many amazing people doing brilliant stuff. I’m always going to say Phlegm, he’s a very good friend as well, but I do just generally love his work and what he does and his ethics and the way he just does his own thing in very uncommercial and he hates money. He just does it because he loves it and so part and parcel, even though I love his artwork on his own I think when you know more about what’s behind it and why people do the things that they do it makes it even more, you just fall in love with it even more. It’s quite a personal thing that choice’. Emma maintains that are so many she likes.
TOSS’s sixth birthday coincides with an exhibition of another one of Emma’s favourite artists, Nick Deakin. Starting on 7th December and running until January 31st, the exhibition entitled ‘It’s Always Been You’ will be shown as an installation, comprising of handcrafted original pieces and brand new print editions. Emma admits that she’s ‘been talking to him for ages, so I’m really excited about getting more of his stuff in’.
Other artists on Emma’s list include Lord Bunn is ‘another one who’s been with us for years and yeah I love his stuff’ as well as Kid Acne ‘again, he’s one of the first people that we ever had in here and just believed in us, which was a massive thing at the time. He’s just never ceases to surprise you, he’s just always pushing and bettering himself and trying different ideas and developing, so I really love his stuff’.
Emma isn’t an arty type, asked straight she definitely says no! When it comes to TOSS and regarding the ideas behind it she informs me that ‘when we opened it just was a sweet shop, we wanted to keep the name as it was but everyone said no you’ve got to be the old sweet shop gallery. We were just like no; because we want to sell art and I do use the word gallery but the point was we’re a corner shop and we want it to be accessible. We want people to walk through the door and go it’s a shop but we can come in and look at art because people can get intimidated very often going into big galleries’.
With Emma’s down to earth approach to the shop, she smiles when she tells me that ‘normal everyday people tell me they don’t go to galleries, but they love coming in here and just look at art. With the mix of stuff it’s nice for people to come in and buy gifts and then notice something that they like and put on their walls and it’s something that they may never see anywhere else’.
When it comes to Sheffield I ask Emma how she finds the creative scene within the city, she confesses ‘it’s weird for me; I moved to Sheffield and opened the shop so it’s grown on me. Once we opened the shop then I started to notice it more. I think it’s great, it’s quite vibrant. The thing that comes up in interviews a lot is how people see Sheffield and how people outside of Sheffield see us. There are always loads going and different pockets but we don’t shout loud enough about what we do and that’s a cross over with music. I think art is guiltier of it than music, but it seems to be a Sheffield trait where everyone just seems to get their head down and does things but it can be nice when you just discover things and again, it’s another cliché, but it’s so friendly and nice. I think again, with the crossover of music and gig going and you get to know people so easily you get to feel part of the community because you see the same people at an art opening to the equivalent of people going to gigs all the time. You bump into people and say hello and so it’s great like that. There are so many artists and I’m really proud of. All the artists who work so hard and then don’t just move to London because they think that’s where their careers going, they in Sheffield because they can. There are so many people who are proud of themselves for that and rightly so because why should you have to move to London just to do well instead of doing it here and they do which I think is great’.
During my time spent chatting with Emma, I note the sense of community she speaks about, there’s plenty of people popping in either for a browse or to purchase items for themselves or for others, some buy notebooks, others picture frames and pieces of art. Some people tell stories of the old sweet shop whilst others are here for a quick gossip. TOSS isn’t a gallery it’s a community but with lots of amazing things to showcase. It’s local and not just for local people as the work Emma and all the artists do is something that should be shared.
More information on TOSS and Nick Deakins Exhibition can be found on their facebook page.