St Albans Christmas Market traders condemn failings of this year’s event

St Albans Christmas Market 2015

St Albans Christmas Market 2015 - Credit: Archant

With just days to go before it finishes for this festive season, traders on St Albans Christmas Market are in despair.

To a man - and woman - they have said they will not come back next year because the market in Vintry Gardens adjoining St Albans Abbey has only been busy at weekends with very low footfall during the week and they have not made enough money to warrant taking a chalet there again.

While admitting that the constant rain and drizzle has not helped, they cited numerous issues which they felt should have been addressed if the district council really wanted to put the market on the map.

They include poor publicity - all citing the small sign above the entrance from High Street as about all they had seen - competition from the council’s French market, the opening hours which had resulted in shoppers arriving early being turned away and the overheads from being in St Albans.

A new trader questioned exclusivity having been placed next to another stall selling the same product. And the traders have discovered that they have been paying different amounts for their chalets with some negotiating down the rates while others have not been so lucky.

One trader described the Christmas market as ‘absolute rubbish’ with takings well down on last year. He said it was so bad that even if the council paid him to come back next year he would not.

He added: “What they have to understand is that without us they don’t have a Christmas market.”

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Two new traders had seen barely any shoppers all day on Tuesday and one said she would not even consider coming back next year.

Eric Roberts, of St Albans Civic Society, said the feedback he had received about the Christmas Market had been very disappointing. Some traders had asked for their money back, he went on, and the signage was ‘just as pathetic as usual’ with a few A4 posters stuck up on lamp posts.

He went on: “I have been trailing some people and they have been making comments like ‘Is that it’ or ‘Have we missed anything?”

Mr Roberts said he did not want to appear negative about the Christmas Market but he could not see it breaking even again this year - it lost money in the first two years of operation - and added: “For God’s sake let’s get it right.”

St Albans council has come out strongly in defence of the market. Head of community services, Richard Shwe, said: “By last Friday there were 66,000 visitors to the market which is up on last year. We are on course to exceed last year’s 90,000.

“Our promotional work has been widespread. It has included a five-week campaign in local newspapers, mentions in the national press, radio ads, bus ads, leaflet drops, posters in St Albans and St Pancras rail stations, banners in St Peter’s Street and signposts.

“We try to get a wide range of stalls with high-quality products and have turned away traders where there has been obvious duplication.”

Mr Shwe went on: “The opening hours are based on feedback from traders from last year. We have allowed traders to open earlier than 11am if requested.

“As for the French Market, it sells a different range of produce and is a regular, additional visitor attraction in the area.”

Mr Shwe said the council been monitoring social media chatter on the Christmas Market and there have been many highly-positive comments.

He added: “This is a young market that is only in its third year and it continues to develop strongly with increasing visitor numbers. It helps create a vibrant, festive atmosphere in the city at Christmas.”

Portfolio holder for community engagement and localism, Cllr Beric Read, also defended the Christmas Market, pointing out that Mondays and Tuesdays were always quiet and traders had not wanted a market that only opened from Wednesday to Sunday.

He is optimistic about its future and urged visitors to go along, saying: “My aim is for it to be a fair bit bigger in years to come. It is the big picture I am interested in and quite a lot of stalls change from week to week so pop back in.”