Surrey Street’s 750-year-old market has seen better times.
In these days of hypermarkets with vast car parks drawing away customers, a good half of the Surrey Street pitches between the food stalls and Rose’s florist stall outside Millets often stand empty. Those stalls which remain offer good quality produce, often locally sourced, and usually at cheaper prices than the supermarkets.
Mrs Thoroughgood’s bananas are so good that their high quality has even been mentioned in the House of Commons.
Sadly shoppers were not going bananas over the latest initiative to promote the market by bringing in guest stall holders on Friday and Saturday.
Maybe it was the foul weather that deterred shoppers on Friday morning, but even during a brief dry spell on Saturday lunchtime, the area at the top of the market where the temporary stalls were to be found lacked any real pulling power for shoppers. What would Mary Portas say?
The established traders had made an especial effort to set out their stalls attractively. The ever effervescent Surrey Street market inspector was extolling the quality of the food on offer to Inside Croydon as she put her money where her mouth was by buying her own food at the market.
But the novice stall-holders – lured in by a token charge of a tenner – cut a disappointing feel, too many of them seeming more car boot or jumble sale than a genuine retail business.
Mad-Ass Chilli Sauce Company boosted things with their tasty burgers but without unhealthy binding agents and with condiments sourced locally. Pupils from a local school traded with enthusiasm on their stall on both days.
And the Redhill Sadvertiser was operating “undercover” on Friday, with a stall with home-made cupcakes and honey brought in from outside the borough. Were they really doing some secret reporting? Or just embarrassed to be there?
Other than their tawdry history of advertising local brothels, there seemed no good reason to be so bashful as to hide their brand under a bushel, or in this case, a duck’s arse.
The stall did have “Love Croydon” bunting, but some eggs from Coulsdon Farm were the only concession to Croydon produce. The “Surrey Honey” at £6.50 a jar was pricy, even by the standards of the most expensive farmers’ markets, and very dear compared to Mrs Thoroughgood’s bunch of bananas at 78p. You wonder how long the unsold jars of honey will have to be stored in the editor’s office in Redhill.
Surrey Street has always been know for quality and value for money. The Sadvertiser stall displayed a lack of awareness of this.
Perhaps it is the unlocal newspaper’s attempt at a retraining scheme for its staff. With sales of the Sadvertiser now at an all-time low of around 8,000 per week, it has been forced to move its main office out of Croydon, it has its pages sub-edited in Essex and, having made its long-standing sports editor redundant in its latest round of job cuts, it now has its sports pages run by someone based in Tunbridge Wells.
Our correspondent had the good manners not to disabuse the breathless blandishments of one journalist-turned-stallholder that the paper had an “exclusive” by its star reporter on Croydon’s £20 million footbridge to nowhere – something which had long before been reported on this website, which remains firmly based inside Croydon.
Like so many recent PR-driven “initiatives” in Croydon, the short-term cosmetic impact of the “Love Your Market” stunt is unlikely to do much to turn round the longer term decline.
“It’s all very nice,” said one regular trader. “But we’ll be here next week, and the week after. What will they be doing to help boost our business then?”
If anything, the PR platitudes just serve to highlight again the schizophrenic nature of the local council: on the one-hand making all the right noises, while on the other taking actions that could potentially sound the death knell for a market that has been the business heart of Croydon since 1236.
In Exchange Square, a potential location for more regular farmers’ and continental markets, there was nothing going on as the area had been dug up by a utilities company.
The new coffee house and co-working business at Matthews Yard, set up as a hopeful response to the despair of the criminality of the 8/8 riots, was late to open on Friday. They had suffered a break-in, the second time that they had been victims of crime this year.
And what has happened to the big meat market at the top end of Surrey Street? Good value Murray’s Meat Market had become Terry’s not so long ago, yet at peak trading time on Saturday, the shutters were firmly shut again.
Maybe the butchers have given up before a new Sainsbury store – granted planning permission by our platitudinous, schizoid council – is allowed to open on the High Street, positioned to suck the last gasps of business life out of Surrey Street.
Returning to sweeter things, we shopped around a bit and found jars of a truly local product, Woodside Honey, on sale in Londis on Woodside Green for just £5.50.
- Inside Croydon: first for footbridge news and best for honey prices
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