Traders blame council as city loses market

Some of the last remaining traders in Lancaster Market before its closure.
Some of the last remaining traders in Lancaster Market before its closure.

The end of an era is nigh at Lancaster Market Hall, where many of the remaining traders are preparing to move into new shop premises before the building’s closure in a month’s time.

Rob Devey went to find out about their plans and their feelings about the end of a city institution.

Colin Smith is typical of many traders getting ready to bid farewell to Lancaster’s indoor market.

Colin and Peter Corke, who ran The Market Cobbler together, have gone their separate ways ahead of the market’s closure on September 11.

Colin moved into a former mobile phone accessory shop in the Marketgate Shopping Centre four weeks ago and is now trading as The Marketgate Cobbler along with three part-time staff.

He remains angry about how Lancaster City Council has run the building.

Notwithstanding the now unaffordable long-term lease agreed with the building owners in the mid 1990s, which has left the council with an annual deficit of around £600,000 on the now quarter-full building, he says it has failed to invest in turning around the market’s fortunes.

“I’m quite disappointed that the market is closing, but it is inevitable after the bad publicity over the last few years,” says Colin.

“I blame the council 100 per cent because of the lease on the building and because there has been no maintenance or publicity in recent years.

“They have done nothing to try and make it work and have only seemed to run it down.”

He says he has received a “reasonable amount” of compensation from the council, but does not feel the amounts offered to traders reflect the true worth of their businesses.

An independent valuer worked out how compensation paid to traders by the council should be split between them based on the size of the business and how long it had traded for.

Peter Corke is joining forces with Gillison’s Fine Leather Goods and The Bag Stall in moving into the former Bamboo Garden Chinese restaurant on New Street, which closed recently.

Peter, who will continue to trade as The Market Cobbler, says he feels the deal struck over compensation had been “fair”.

“It will be a sad day but we are all ready to take the next step,” he says.

“Over the years different councillors and officers have had no cohesive policy to make the market work.

“They might have tried moving us all downstairs and getting someone else in for the upper floor – a building contractor we went to priced that at £95,000 but the council said it would cost £300,000.”

Gillison’s and The Bag Stall have been in the market since 1970 and were previously run by Philip Halkyard – “Him Wit Beard”.

His daughter Sarah took over 13 years ago and now runs the stall with three part-time staff.

“We would 100 per cent rather stay here – to have a place like Lancaster without an indoor market is really bad,” she says.

“We are positive about what we are doing but it’s a shame for the people of Lancaster.”The Polish Delicatessen, which has been at the market for four years, is moving to the former Unbox shop on Brock Street and will open seven days a week.

Owner, Agnieszka Scojewska, says: “I’m disappointed and I will miss the people here but on the other hand I’m excited that we are moving.

“There might not be so much passing trade though and that has helped us to attract a lot of English customers.”

Bay Pets is to move into the former Greengrocer shop on Common Garden Street during the first week of September, and Jester’s Fancy Dress, which it also owns, will occupy the first floor of that unit. “It’s sad but the market has had its day,” says owner Paul Osmotherley, who has worked at the market for 25 years, initially as a butcher, and now employs five people.

“I suppose the lease the council signed seemed like a good idea at the time but they signed it without a get-out clause.

“You can blame them for that, but then you can look back at anything and point the finger of blame.

“It’s not ideal but you have to move on and draw a line in the sand.”

Karen Downie, who has run the Market Barber for three years, is moving to an empty hair salon on Sir Simon’s Arcade at the beginning of September after its previous occupants moved in with Guys and Dolls on New Street.

She says the council had made some “terrible mistakes”.

“At first everyone was really upset because we tried so hard to save the market.

“But the building was not really being looked after and the heating was inadequate so really it is a blessing in disguise.

“The worst thing was not knowing what was happening but now almost everyone left in the market has got a shop.”

Hartley Electrical Services is moving into the former Domestic Appliance Centre on King Street.

Owner Darren Rawes said: “I’ve worked for the company for 24 years but the last five of them have been hell.

“We’ve survived though and people still come to us – I just want to get out now.”

Other stalls on the move include Burgess Cheese, which will re-open in Ffrances Passage.

The African Caribbean Foods stall will share a unit in King’s Arcade with the Rose of Sharon hair salon, and the NHS Stop Smoking Shop is returning to St Nicholas’ Arcades.

The Terrace Cafe, which has operated since 1994, is taking over Lewis’ cafe on New Street after owner John Lewis decided to retire.

“It’s quite an exciting move,” says owner Leanne Aspinall, who is taking on Lewis’ 10 staff.

“We have been forced into it because we were quite happy in the market up to two years ago but the demise of the market has been a bit of a nightmare.

“I do not blame the council solely because people’s shopping habits have changed, but I don’t think they have spent money to improve the market facility.”

Another longstanding business, Hester’s Haberdashery, is moving to an empty unit on Gage Street.

“The council made the position unworkable and I don’t think there would have been a future for us here because the market is in such a state of dilapidation,” says owner Leanne Bissett, who is hoping to keep on the stall’s nine part-time staff.

“I have spent 20 years of my life on Lancaster’s indoor market; I worked for Mary Leach, who had this stall for 25 years and her mother had the stall before her so it’s the end of an era.

“It is ridiculous because we could have had a really good thriving market here.”

Other traders will no longer have a presence in Lancaster, including M Green and Son, which has been trading at the city’s indoor market for 50 years.

Owner Roger Green is now 68, but says he does not want to retire and blames extortionate rents for city shop units for his decision to cease trading.

He says the council had not run the market cost-effectively and had made life difficult for tenants by charging “excessive rents”.

“It’s very sad and I will miss it,” says Roger, who works with his son Christopher. “I just want to make a living and mix with the public.

“I’m going to have a sabbatical but life is for working.

“My son will have to find something else but that is not easy at the moment.”

KBS Trading, which sells ladies wear, bags, luggage and shoes, is to concentrate on its three units at Kendal Market, while tobacconist Cheapasmokes, whose owners have several shops across the North West, is still looking for a shop unit in Lancaster.

It is believed that budget food store Cool Trader is looking to move into the unit currently occupied by Ethel Austin on Penny Street, but Cool Trader was unavailable for comment.

Ethel Austin has been bought out of administration by Ricli Limited, which took on 32 of its 41 stores, but the Lancaster shop was not one of them and a spokeswoman for administrator Duff and Phelps said a buyer was still being sought for it.

The Balcony Bistro is to cease trading after six years.

Owner Sharon Hodgson has had to make five staff redundant.

“We’ve not been able to find anywhere; shop rents are so dear and there are too many coffee shops in Lancaster,” she says.

“Even if we found a shop we would have to put our prices up and our customers would not keep coming.

“We’re all having to find new jobs, but it’s not easy.”

Sharon claims the situation has been handled “disgracefully” by the council, with rents getting higher.

“Since they announced the market might close or relocate two years ago trade has gone downhill,” she says.

“They killed us off then really.”

The council is now looking at buying out its lease with building owners Allied in a move which could cost taxpayers millions.

Options suggested by officers in May included a council funded re-development of the building under which it would either retain or surrender its lease, a re-development funded by Allied after the council had surrendered its lease and a deal by which the council purchased the building freehold.

But councillors deferred a decision then and the building’s future remains unclear.

Coun Jon Barry, cabinet member with responsibility for markets, said: “The closure of the indoor market is a vary sad event. However, I believe that it is important to look at the many future positives for the city centre.

“Many of the market traders who are relocating will greatly benefit the city centre by giving it an increased number and better mix of independent traders to complement the existing stores, as well as the Assembly Rooms and Charter Market.

“The town will also benefit from some of the empty units in the city centre now being fully occupied, which can only be good news for the local economy, shoppers and visitors to the city.

“It also means that discussions with Allied, the owner of the indoor market building, can now take a step forward with the eventual aim of securing a new future for the building.

“I personally want to wish all of the traders good luck and every success in their new ventures.”