Words John Edwards | Pictures Luke Reynolds Photography
IT was a landmark moment eagerly anticipated by so many Altrincham supporters, and they turned out in their droves to share in the celebrations as the club's first-ever town centre retail store opened its doors yesterday afternoon.
As Alty players, directors and volunteers counted down towards 4pm, crowds gathered outside the front windows of the brand new Altrincham FC Official Club Store right in the heart of the town's George Street pedestrian precinct in the Stamford Quarter.
With seconds to go, the main door was opened to allow as many as could be accommodated to step forward into the entrance area and lead the cheers as director John Coyne cut the red ribbon in a ceremony that marked another significant breakthrough in the club's development.
Altrincham's first-ever High Street shop was open for business, and it was hugely gratifying for everyone who had worked tirelessly to see such an ambitious project through to fruition to see so many Robins fans taking the chance to admire the lay-out and range of replica kits, leisurewear and other Alty-themed items on display.
As was hoped after deliberately timing the opening ceremony for 4pm, most of the area's schools were well represented, with a wide variety of blazers and uniforms in evidence to further bolster the club's hopes of attracting local youngsters to The J.Davidson Stadium in ever-increasing numbers.
First-teamers Chris Conn-Clarke, Jake Cooper and Sam Roscoe happily signed autographs and posed for photos, while coach Ross Speight and directors John Coyne and Sam Mackenzie were on hand to mingle and chat over mince pies, mulled wine and soft drinks.
It was a well-attended and well-received occasion, with many satisfied customers making purchases from the well-stocked rails and shelves, and Radio Alty were on air in one corner of the store, broadcasting one interview after another to a background hubbub of a packed shop floor.
One was with John Coyne, the driving force behind Alty now rubbing shoulders with retail giants like Boots and Marks & Spencer, and he said: "We've thought about having a retail outlet and hub in the town centre for a couple of years now, so to have got it over the line and be sitting here now with the shop open for business is a great feeling. It involved a lot of planning and hard work, but it was well worth it to see the doors opening and so many people coming in.
"We hope it will have a positive impact in terms of incremental sales and revenue. Retail has been strong for a while now, but the store should add a decent percentage to that. To see so much enthusiasm for what we are doing fills us with confidence that we can do that.
"But it's more than just a case of selling merchandise. It's a hub as well as a shop, and we can add extra momentum to ticket sales and hospitality. If anyone is looking to book a wedding reception or any other sort of function, they can come in and chat to us about it and see what we have to offer.
"We'll have brochures for them to look through, and we can answer any questions about cost and how to make a booking. There are lots of other ways as well that we will be able to use the hub to generate extra revenue.
"It's massively important for us to attract the younger element and get them to identify with Altrincham as their local team. We've already got 1400 juniors playing for the club, and we want more and more local youngsters to see this store when they're out with mum and dad and ask to be taken in for a look round."