Trading in Lancaster has been centred around the local market for decades. Independent retailers coming together under one roof to supply the community with good quality, fresh produce. To discover more about this, one way is to speak directly with the stall owners themselves, asking questions including, is shopping in a market still popular? Is it easy to compete with large supermarkets? Where does all the produce come from? Do they have a secure customer base? If yes, how have they built it up? And finally, why do they do it?!
The market place can sometimes be seen as the centre of a community. A place for people to meet, shop and trade. Lancaster’s historic market has changed considerably over the years but is still a place you can trust for fresh produce and friendly faces. From fabric and jewellery to meat and fish, a range of locally sourced products can be found within the markets walls. Even though the market today isn’t in its original location due to a fire in 1984, tradition and continuity are still apparent in the way the stall owners trade and communicate with the customers. When speaking with many of the traders a dominant theme is apparent; customer service. Building up a rapport with the customer is very important to the traders in the market. A relationship of trust must be established so the customers will come back time and time again for good quality food.
With the rise of more commercial food outlets and chain stores offering cheap deals on produce, traders in the market have pushed through with their customer service skills and in some areas have come out on top compared to major supermarkets. In the current economic climate supermarkets have had to lower their prices to keep their customers. Stall owners are continuing to provide good quality food and a warm welcome to customers to ensure their regulars don’t go elsewhere. Now more than ever people want to know where their food comes from, when it was caught/harvested and how long it’s been on the counter for. All these questions are easily answered by the traders in Lancaster’s market. When answering these questions the stall owners are helping to keep the importance of buying locally alive and stimulating the local economy. A study completed in June 1985 assessing the potential for increased intra-regional trading in the Lancaster area, stressed the importance for local buying, one resident of Lancaster stating ‘ we must do what we can to stimulate the local economy’. When speaking to the fishmonger (R&P Shaw) and butcher (The Bacon Stall) both stressed the important of their customer base and listening to what consumers want. Knowing what the customer wants before they know themselves is an important attribute a good trader must have. This enables the market to keep up with the demand and tailor their stalls to the consumer providing an overall more personal shopping experience.
After the second fire in 1984 some market stalls were moved into a beautiful heritage building; The Assembly Rooms on King Street. Originally meant as a temporary residence for haberdashery and clothing, has now become a permanent site for vintage clothing, antiques and curiosities. Again these stall owners value their customer base and the importance of local trading. Each stall owner, like the butcher and fishmonger, have also built up a relationship with customers tailoring their products to their needs. Due to the intimate relationship between stall owner and customer they had been able to listen to what customers want and could keep up with demand. Even though big department stores and supermarkets have opened and become ever more popular in the last 20 years, local produce and customer service are still proving popular within the local community. Keeping local independent traders open in Lancaster is also important to the community and closure could be detrimental to the local shopping atmosphere and economy.
So, with their passion for the job and traditional values, stall traders in the market and The Assembly Rooms should be praised for keeping the local economy alive and their excellent customer service skills. Without them, Lancaster could lack the charm and community atmosphere which distinguishes it from other major cities.