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Markets’ plea to Londoners: Come and support us

PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 September 2020

Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday morning. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday morning. Picture: Isabel Infantes

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Struggling businesses at the capital’s top street markets today appealed for Londoners to fill the gap left by the reduced tourist trade.

Agnes Nwabia has been been selling her handmade clothes and jewellery from her stall in Portobello Road for six years. Picture: LDRSAgnes Nwabia has been been selling her handmade clothes and jewellery from her stall in Portobello Road for six years. Picture: LDRS

Stall owners in Portobello Road, Columbia Road and Borough Market said they are facing the “toughest” trading conditions they have ever seen. Many rely on tourists for much of their sales, particularly during summer.

The famous flower market in Columbia Road reopened after months of closure on July 5.

But new rules and social distancing measures mean traders are serving around 50 per cent of the customers they were before the pandemic.

Shane Harnett, whose family has run a stall at the Sunday market for more than 100 years, said: “Columbia Road saw a lot of tourists and they haven’t come back, which has affected the market, particularly the shops. I’m a fourth generation nurseryman and stall owners are happy to be back making a living again but it’s at about 50 percent of what it was.

Fraser Devlin and Carly Manis at the fruit and veg stall the Devlin family has been running in Portobello Road for more than 100 years. Picture: LDRSFraser Devlin and Carly Manis at the fruit and veg stall the Devlin family has been running in Portobello Road for more than 100 years. Picture: LDRS

READ MORE: Neighbours seek ‘safe’ social distancing pledge ahead of Columbia Road Flower Market reopening

“A lot of people got into gardening during lockdown and we are seeing more young people coming down. People are gradually coming back. They should be confident we have measures in place to protect them and they can come down and support us safely.”

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesman said: “We waived pitch fees for both permanent and casual market traders during lockdown and we’ve supported traders with grants through our Discretionary Grants Scheme.

“We’ve worked with traders to provide new layouts and procedures to maintain a safe capacity, hand hygiene and social distancing particularly at our busier sites like Columbia Road on Sundays.”

Agnes Nwabia has been selling her handmade clothes and jewellery from her Dorofabian stall in Portobello Road for six years.

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“It’s been the toughest it’s ever been,” she said. “A lot of the stall owners aren’t coming during the week anymore because it’s so quiet. This is a tourists’ market.

“On Saturday there used to be hundreds of people but now it’s very quiet even at the weekend. I have a unique product so local people have been supporting me, without them I would have to close. We need more residents to come down and shop.”

Kensington and Chelsea council’s Business Interruption Fund has given out 96 grants to market traders so far totalling £240,000, installed free wifi to aid contactless sales and closed Portobello Road to traffic on market days to help with social distancing and attract shoppers back.

However traders say without the customers many of them are still struggling.

Onur Turgul set up his art stall after arriving in London two years ago from Turkey. He sells framed collages and postcards made by his wife.

“It’s been very quiet,” he said. “There are no tourists. The council has helped with the relief fund but we need more people to come down. I love working here and just hope we can keep going.”

Fraser Devlin’s family has been running Devlin’s Fruit and Veg stall from its Portobello Road pitch for more than 100 years. They were one of just two stalls in the market which remained open throughout lockdown.

“Because of what sell business has been steady for us,” said Mr Fraser. “We were getting up at 12.30am to get to the wholesalers at the height of the pandemic when all the panic buying was happening. We remained open and started deliveries. There was a real community spirit. But on Saturdays the market as a whole is much quieter. We don’t want to lose what makes it what it is.”

READ MORE: Sad farewell to George Gladwell, stalwart of Columbia Road flower market since 1949

Nick Fitzgerald runs Mexican market stall and restaurant Tacos Padre in Borough Market, which opened less than six months before being forced to close for lockdown.

“A lot of people still don’t know Borough Market is open,” he said. “It’s a very mixed bag, our two major populations were lunch trade from offices and the international population – day trippers, tourists. They have both been completely decimated. We have seen a bit of an increase in office workers but nowhere near what we need to make up for the shortfall in visitors.

“We are not anywhere close to where we need to be and there is going to be a lot of closures in the market if things don’t improve dramatically. There needs to be a coordinated campaign a real effort to drive people down to London’s markets.”


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