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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Market forces are alive and they’re thriving

Say “market” and some people will picture wide boys peddling tat. But they have far more to offer than bargains to cash-strapped Cumbrians in the midst of recession.

Here you can still find the shopping experience that many of our high streets appear to have lost – plus the opportunity to support local businesses at the same time.

Helen Wylie, centre manager at Carlisle’s Market Hall, says: “Stall-holders don’t just treat you as another person in a queue.

“They don’t ignore you when you tell them what you are doing.

“They are interested in what the customers have to say. You get that rapport that you don’t get in some of the bigger stores.

“This is important especially for the older customers. This might be the only contact they have in a day.”

Markets are not just places where people sell goods at knock-down prices: they are communities of traders and of shoppers.

Centres like Carlisle’s grand Victorian indoor market offer a gateway to a nostalgic world before the advent of out-of-town supermarkets and internet shopping. Back then shopping was as much about socialising as it was about consumerism.

Michael Evans, proprietor of Cumbrian Foods Company, runs a popular bakery stall in Carlisle’s indoor market. He says: “You can engage better with the stall-holders and proprietors. It’s a much nicer way to shop.

“It’s the friendliness and you are dealing with good local businesses. It’s not mass produced. Take myself and other food producers; we know exactly what goes in the food and it doesn’t stay on the shelf for ages.”

Soaking in the atmosphere of Carlisle’s indoor market this week was Anita Scott, of Cresswell Avenue, Harraby, and her 83-year-old mother Margaret Little.

Anita explains her reason for the visit: “I like the friendliness and the and all the fruit and veg is cheap and nice and fresh. I come here for my eggs too. They do lovely eggs.”

Margaret adds with a note of horror in her voice: “At least we have a market. Some towns don’t.”

Sue and Howard Cheesman of Brampton came into the market to use health food shop Wholesome! run by Dawn and Adam Thompson.

“It’s very friendly and she is always helpful. It’s independent, that’s the main thing. You talk about what you need and she will make suggestions and look things up,” says Sue.

Husband Howard adds: “You don’t get that in big super market chains.”

Meanwhile, Geraud Markets UK runs markets in Workington, Keswick and Silloth on behalf of Allerdale council.

It has been so successful that it is now planning to open another in Wigton.

The group’s flagship market in Keswick is the best performing of the group. It has about 30 stalls and a waiting list of 40 traders keen to join.

Much of the produce is local but the market is doing so well that traders travel from as far afield as Stoke and Manchester to sell their goods.

Phil Byers, market manager for Allerdale, claims the Keswick market, which is held on Thursdays and Saturdays is the “finest market in northern England”.

He denies that markets are accelerating the decline of the high street, insisting that it has beneficial knock-on effects for shopkeepers in the town.

He says: “Footfall is much higher on a market day than on general day, there are far more people. Most of them [the shop keepers] think it’s better, one or two think it’s damaging.

“We have the local people who come to support the stalls as they do in Workington. But we also get different people all the time, from day trippers to holiday makers and that seems to be the reason why we get so many more. It is also such a lovely site.”

He adds that some former shopkeepers have opened a market stall as a means of cutting their overheads in a difficult economic climate.

Napoleon famously described the United Kingdom as a nation of shopkeepers.

Glancing around the faceless high streets you would be forgiven for asking ‘Where are they all?’

In their place are national stores interspersed with empty shop units.

Every high street in England looks the same.

In markets, however, you can still find the banter and face-to-face customer service which is far harder to come by in the larger chains and super markets.

Part of the pleasure of market shopping can be haggling over the price for goods. But it is not just about bagging a bargain. It is also about the banter and repartee between stall-holder and customer that goes with it.

Here you will still find colour and atmosphere and that most elusive breed – the independent trader.

Says Helen: “I think it’s very important that people buy local produce and know that they are supporting local businesses. Carlisle is a little hot spot – our own little border city – which serves Dumfries and Galloway, the north east and West Cumbria.

“I would be good if people realised the quality and freshness is there.

“Folk need to realise that they have to support the small businesses in the city centre. The stalls are your little town shops under one roof: use them or lose them.

“It is good that they are hanging in there and surviving with so many places on the outskirts of town that sell everything under one roof.

“If people don’t want to lose the character of the city centre, they have to shop in the city centre.

“If everyone went to these out of town stores it would be a ghost town. There would be nothing in the town centre and it’s important that there is.”

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