St Albans charter market in crisis - how coronavirus restrictions have impacted on traders
- Credit: Archant
Could coronavirus restrictions spell the end of St Albans charter market?
That is the fear of traders and customers following new measures brought in to enforce social distancing. These include reducing the number of stalls and rotating them fortnightly.
The market has been trading every Wednesday and Saturday since around the 9th or 10th century, and was granted a Royal Charter by Edward VI in 1553.
Traders used to have a stall erected for them as part of the fee they pay to set up on the market, but although the payment has remained the same, stall holders now have to assemble their own stall or gazebo and dismantle it at the end of the day.
The general feeling when this newspaper spoke to traders is one of fear of being named for reprisal.
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One stall-holder, part of a family business that has traded for over 50 years on St Albans market on Saturdays and more recently Wednesdays, said he cannot make money selling what he sells by only being there once a fortnight: “This is going to potentially ruin our businesses.”
“The council tells St Albans residents that is makes a huge loss every year - I fail to see how that can be the case when every stall pays £40-£51 minimum per day.”
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Although traders are scared of speaking out, they have been raising awareness of the problems with their customers.
Market shopper Jon Breen said: “The street traders have been told that for fairness for social distancing they can only trade once every two weeks.
“The shop keepers say that the street traders bring in business.
“If SADC kill the market they will destroy the city centre.”
Resident Michael Shaw of Little Acre said in an open letter to St Albans district council: “Yesterday on my weekly visit to the market to purchase fruit and veg I was informed by two traders that as from Saturday, July 25 they were only allowed to trade fortnightly.
“As a long time resident of St Albans I have watched with dismay the gradual decline of a once vibrant and dynamic city.
“The small interesting shops have long gone, being replaced by coffee shops, estate agents and now phone shops making St Albans no different from other cities.
“The market was the one remaining jewel to attract the public yet no effort is being made to protect and support its traders.”
Manager of Crepeaffair David Thomas also holds this view: “As a shop we rely on traders to bring extra business and compromise is key. Come Christmas it could be a very bleak St Albans.”
Resident Sally Audley said: “It concerns me gravely that our local businesses are being unfairly treated by business enforcement and under the guise of COVID-19 pandemic ‘rules’ and ‘laws’, the market is failing.
“Under these hastily invented rules and laws the market stalls traditionally stored and put up by the council have been removed until further notice.
“How anyone can run a business selling any product let alone fresh foods if they are not allowed to set up and do so under these rules?”
The council says the restrictions have been necessary due to the pandemic. Cllr Mandy McNeil, portfolio holder for business, tourism and culture explained: “Our market traders are an immensely important part of our local community and economy.
“With multiple stakeholders, differing needs, government safety regulations and a pandemic to deal with, running the market is not as simple as people might wish it to be. The council’s job is to balance the differing needs of everyone and ensure that people remain safe in what is a very worrying and continuing state of emergency.
“From 1 August we will be looking to increase the market, using High Street (which required landowner permissions) and the area around the Alban Arena.
“We have to consider the needs of retailers too. The government has now relaxed guidelines so that shops and pubs can be licensed to put tables and chairs outside – this is helping them to continue to run their businesses.
“But on market days they can’t do that because space is limited. I’m also concerned about the needs of people with disabilities.
“Things have altered the city centre landscape, and for people who are visually impaired for example, this has meant many are unable to come into town to do their shopping as usual.”