Markets under threat as shoppers go online for fruit and veg
Rising rents are intensifying fight for survival, while a traders’ group says markets are struggling to attract new stallholders
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 October 2011 23.12 BST
For generations the bustling local market has offered cost-conscious shoppers fresh fruit, meat and vegetables served by traders, and many have had the same family stall for years.
But now, market stallholders say they face a battle for survival as shoppers turn to supermarkets or online shopping.
According to the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) – founded in 1899 by South Yorkshire market traders – people have simply forgotten how to use a market.
Traders continue to suffer two years on from a parliamentary select committee report that concluded that the majority of the country’s estimated 3,000 general markets were in decline.
In Mexborough, near Doncaster, traders have started legal action to stop rents being quadrupled. The minimum rent at Mexborough market will rise from £15.72 to £36.68 a week and eventually to £78.60 a week by 2014. Landlords Doncaster council says the rents have not increased in more than 15 years and the extra money would fund investment that would attract more shoppers – but some traders have hired solicitors and surveyors to look into the matter.
One trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “If the rents go up like that we might as well just pack up and go home – we just couldn’t afford to stay here, we don’t make enough money. We’re valued by our customers but we’re just not profitable enough.”
Rents are also contentious at Europe’s largest indoor market, Kirkgate, in Leeds.
Cliff Hocken runs a stall selling seafood, sandwiches and refreshments with his wife, Michelle. The family have run the business for 130 years. Michelle subscribes to the theory that better management of the facilities would bring more people in.
She said: “Market traders often bend over backwards for their customers – if people ask us how to cook stuff we can help them and offer that personal touch. People are becoming more discerning and want fresh produce and to know where it’s come from — it’s that kind of thing we provide, but I wonder how many people are aware of that.”
The campaign group Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market fear the council is looking to gentrify the facilities and change its character – a charge denied by Leeds markets champion councillor Gerry Harper, who says things cannot stay the same forever.
He said: “Some people seem to think we’re trying to close the market, we’re not. We genuinely want to make this the best market in the country,” Harper said.
But the NMTF has said one of the biggest issues facing modern markets is attracting new stallholders.
Communications manager Roy Holland said that stalls that had been in the same families for generations were now closing because the younger generation does not want to take them over. The NMTF is hoping an apprenticeship scheme will encourage youngsters to think of the markets as a viable way of earning a living.
But Holland remained upbeat that, ultimately, shoppers will start to find markets again. “There is a very strong future for markets,” he said. “I don’t accept there’s a terminal decline here. But the people who run the facilities need to understand what it is they’re running, and they need to be promoted better, which is down to the traders as well.
“Some shoppers have forgotten how to use a market, it’s a mindset that you just now go to the supermarket and get everything there. We need to promote ourselves as a place where you can get fresh good quality products where stallholders offer a personal touch.”