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Specialists in wild bird foods and feeders
“It was flattened by war and weathered one of the biggest crises the city of Hull has seen but after 115 years, Hessle Road’s oldest family-run store is still going strong.”
Maltbys Stores, on the corner of Liverpool Street, was bombed during the Blitz and came through the area’s economic decline when the fishing industry came to a crashing halt.
But in 2019, it has gone against the tide of independent retailers struggling to make their mark.
For the majority of its century in business the shop, which mainly deals in pet supplies, has operated with a three-strong family unit behind its ever-ringing tills until it underwent vast expansion recently.
The sixth generation firm opened a new dog spa above their existing shop in 2017 and a year later purchased a huge new warehouse to deal with the ever-increasing demand of online sales.
It means that in just a handful of years it has gone from three family members to a team of 19 staff, making it a real business success story.
While always looking ahead, current owner Paul Maltby, the great-great grandson of its founder, says it is important to remember where they have come from.
A giant mural has even been painted on the side of the property letting everyone know the challenges its owners have faced in getting it to the healthy state it is in today.
Speaking in the office space tucked away in the Hessle Road shop, Mr Maltby said: “It was my great, great grandad Thomas Maltby who set it up in 1904 just as originally as a corn factors dealing."
"People had chickens, horses, that sort of thing. There weren’t really pet shops in those days."
“That started at 75 Hessle Road near Alexandra pub. They had a competitor at 457 who my grandad said was useless but he had a lot better premises so when he went bust or shut down, my grandad decided to take on his premises in the early 30s."
“This other one became available at 457 so that’s why they moved to 457 because it was more central for Hessle Road. That got bombed out in 1941.”
Paul has been running the company alongside his sister Kathryn since 2002 surrounded by 10 other members of their family and seven others who they see in much the same way.
In recent years they have been joined by Paul’s uncle Jeff, known affectionately as ‘Unc’, who is the company’s self-styled chief executive.
Taking on the story of the shop’s past, Jeff said: “My dad took over the shop in 1931 and then the shop was bombed in 1941. Hessle Road took a big hit with the docks being down there as well."
"Unfortunately, the shop took a hit but luckily there was no loss of life even though people in those days did live above the shop."
“The shop was absolutely flattened."
“Even during the war it reopened at 513 in 1942 Hessle Road, further down."
“It moved in 1950 to where it is now and obviously on a street corner because in them days for a shop like this you needed a corner to get the products outside."
"It was just a traditional pet shop in those days selling pet products."
While Maltbys is best known now for its pet foods, grains and accessories, there was a time that some of the older residents of Hessle Road might remember where new housing estates popping up around the city made them change tack.
In the 1960s, the shop started to sell lawnmowers and other garden products as areas like Bransholme and Longhill started to appear - the first time many Hullensians would have had a garden to manicure.
The decision helped to keep the business going and propelled them towards the 21st century when it would experience its biggest expansion to date.
As the internet began to dominate, Maltbys went online and now takes around 1,000 orders per day. Its rapid rise meant, in 2018, they even had to take on a warehouse nearby to make sure they could keep up with demand.
“When I took over from my dad in 2002 it wasn’t doing too bad,” Paul said.
“There was enough work for three of us. Then 2007 to 2008 there was all the B&Qs and Pets At Home having an effect and the internet was coming in so it was sort of the final straw for small businesses and I thought if you can’t beat them join them."
“From 2008 to now we’re now up to 19 people working and we’re predominantly an internet store.”
“The shop only ever employed a maximum of four to five people.”
Before Paul’s time, Maltbys came through the war scarred by bombings but that was not the final challenge the family faced.
As the fishing industry nose-dived in the 1970s, Paul can still remember the impact it had on the Hessle Road community.
“I was dragged down here when I was eight and kind of forced to work. But I've been full time since I was 16 so that’s 38 years full time,” he said."
“I’m of an age where I saw the fishing industry decline and I actually saw it before it declined."
"I had a lot of friends whose dads went to sea including one friend I knew whose dad died at sea. We saw all that side of it."
“There’s very few businesses left from when I was eight. Very few. Maybe three or four really so they see this as a place where they like to come in and have a natter."
“It was the wild west. As a six or seven year old child, to see men drunk at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon was mind-blowing. They had distinctive clothes as well. You could always tell a fisherman by his clothes."
“You didn’t see that anywhere else."
“Although Hull had 250,000 people, the 30,000 on Hessle Road was always kind of different. It was like a community inside a city.”
The store was and continues to be more than simply a place where goods are sold but it remains a hub of the community.
Familiar faces of the past, like beloved Hessle Road postman George Cook, were regular faces to walk through its door and some of the famous old characters still pop in to say hello to this day.
Despite much of their presence moving over to the web, their success shows having a friendly face behind the counter and a strong reputation still goes a long way.
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