Armed with his re-usable canvas bag, KEN TOWL strolled down Croydon’s ancient street market to pick up a bargain and find out how the traders are getting along, more than a year after its £1.1million makeover
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the high street is going to wrack and ruin and, as I passed by the shut-up shop fronts of North End, I wondered how things are going in Surrey Street Market at the heart of Croydon.
The ancient street market, founded by royal charter in 1276, has been providing good quality fruit and vegetables to the people of Croydon for centuries, but was more recently described unhelpfully as “tatty” by a senior councillor, before being given a bit of a facelift last year.
The question I asked myself as I stood on the footbridge that crosses Surrey Street was, “Why does it look half empty?” In late March last year, the market was cleared and some (but not all) of the stall-holders were moved to a temporary site in North End while radiators in Surrey Street were painted in bright colours, lines and numbers for pitches were painted on the ground, and a blue child soldier with a grenade in his hand was stuck on a wall.
After 10 weeks the stall-holders who wanted to come back were allowed to do so and the inherent “tattiness” of the fruiterers was leavened by the introduction of organic delicatessen farmers’ market hipster street food bourgeoisification.
By preventing the market’s traders from plying their trade for nearly three months in 2017, the council managed to drive away half the remaining stalls.
A market that once boasted some 100 stall-holders now has, as of the morning of Tuesday December 18, 2018, 16 providers of fruit and vegetables, two selling cut flowers (and, this month, wreaths and Christmas trees), one selling fresh fish, another selling lingerie and one more selling a variety of household materials, plus a handful of trailers selling street food such as doughnuts.
I spoke to some of the traders who, quite frankly, appear a little subdued, a little worried about the future of the market.
In the lead up to Christmas , things “could be better”, trade was described as fairly quiet. “So-so,” was the way one trader put it.
The Centre for Retail Research has just published findings that suggest that neither retail nor online sales are high this year but that this Saturday, December 22, will be the peak “Super Saturday” for the high street (after “Frenzied Friday”, the last big day for pre-Christmas internet sales).
Surrey Street Market is not quite on its uppers, though, and the current empty spaces where the uninspired councillor had envisaged there would be gentrifying croissants, cupcakes and charcuterie only serve to point up the real attraction of the market, the good quality vegetables at better-than-supermarket prices.
The cry of “pound a bowl” is still to be heard in Surrey Street and for your pound you get a lot. Three cucumbers, for example, or 20 clementines, enough carrots to feed a herd of reindeer, or a lifetime’s supply of Brussels sprouts.
If you are doing your Christmas shopping this weekend, you could do worse than stock up on oranges, sprouts, potatoes and parsnips at Surrey Street.
Despite the best efforts of the council, the market is still the beating heart of Croydon’s retail offer, and it will continue to be so as long as we use it.
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