Capturing spirit of the market

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Ten years ago Nick Hunter quit Preston market believing its death knell had sounded.

The trader, whose grandfather set up a poultry stall on the city’s Flagmarket back in 1936 to start a family business, feared the shadow of the £700 Tithebarn regeneration plans for the area would finish the markets off.

Poultry pals: Market traders Gary Singh and Nick Hunter

Poultry pals: Market traders Gary Singh and Nick Hunter

“I went off to run a chip shop I have in Hoghton, but I got bored and the market was still there and thriving and I cannot see that changing,” says the 38-year-old.

“People shop in the supermarkets because it is convenient, not because it is cheaper, but I think they will soon start asking themselves whether they are happy to pay an extra £30 for convenience.”

His poultry store has joined forces with Gary Singh, 46, who travels in from his Manchester home to sell African and Jamaican fruits and vegetables alongside a range of spices.

He explains: “The idea was to offer something different; there are other fruit and veg stalls on the market but nothing like what I sell, it is all about doing something different, that is why people come to markets.”

But, the veg man is far from the only specialist in the market hall.

Down the way at Andrew Wisdom’s family-run butchers, they are selling sausages manufactured to a recipe which makes the suitable for people on diets.

The trader, who has worked on the market since he was 13, says: “A lot of the slimming clubs come here, we also do gluten free sausages for people on special diets, but then we have things like mince which is a lot cheaper for people on a budget.

“There are a lot of things we do now which when never would have done when I started on the market, but the principle of giving people a good deal is still the same.

“I do not think that will ever change.”

Carl Holloway agrees. The Manchester-based council worker is one of a growing number of younger shoppers visiting the market hall.

The 29-year-old, says: “In terms of quality and value, you cannot get any better; if I went to one of the little convenience supermarkets near where I live it would cost me twice as much as I pay on the market.

“I think a lot of people are getting wise to it and realising that supermarkets are not as cheap as you think.”

The value of markets to has been thrust into the national limelight with self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas highlighting them as key to the latest evolution of the high street.

Nicky Keefe, who took over cheese, eggs and yoghurt stall, Pickles of Preston, from the Pickles family two years ago, has seen the success of markets in neighbouring Wigan and Leigh here her mother’s stall, Redman’s, has been successful.

She says: “People want something a bit different and the number of specialist shops especially for things like cheese are going down, so there will always be a demand.”

In Preston, the future of the market also continues to rumble on with the latest talk being of demolishing the 1970s market hall and creating a new facility on the former fishmarket under the neighbouring Victorian canopies.

Fishmonger Mark Richardson still remembers the days when fish was sold from stalls there.

He says: “I started when I was 11 and there must have been 20-odd stall selling fish because it was one of the cheapest things you could buy.

“You were lucky if you got chicken or a piece of meat but people would have fish two or three times a week.”

So, does he think moving traders back outside is a good idea? “If it’s into the right kind of facility, it is,” he says, “this place has always been an annexe of the covered market, that is what people consider Preston market.”

A recent study into the future of the market outlined a vision of a smaller market - it is estimated the current facility is a third bigger than it needs to be - focused on its food offer.

But, Sunita Passi, whose fashion stall on the market hall’s top floor, hopes there is a place for the non-food traders amongst them as well.

She beams: “You get good days and you get bad days, but I cannot imagine life without the market.

“We try and get all the latest fashions in and a lot of people who come and shop with us keep coming back.

“I don’t know what will happen with it, but there’s definitely still a demand for a market.”

One man who sums up the new found belief in the future of Preston market is Sean Hewlett.

He is the newest trader having set up his flower stall on the market’s ground floor having previously run florists for major high street names.

The 42-year-old says: “A lot of people know me around here, I used to run Klint’s Flowers outside on the market, and when I went away I missed the buzz of the place.

“You would never get the kind of spirit you find on the market on the high street, there’s something special about this place.”