Lancaster market

1 10 2010

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.

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Researching Lancaster’s trading history

17 09 2010

When researching a topic on social history, one can only get so far with books, newspapers and photographs. It is the experiences of others that help to paint a picture of life in bygone times. Talking to older Lancaster residents tells us a great deal about shops and retailing in an earlier era of the city’s life. We can also learn a lot from written and photographic records, and from other sources such as contemporary newspaper adverts.

The Lancaster City Museum provides the public with important bites of information about local history. This is the first port of call for anyone researching into Lancaster’s retailing past. The walls are crammed with information relating to a wide range of relevant topics, such as transport, housing, shops and pubs. More in-depth information can be found at the Lancaster community history library, which should be the next stop on the historian’s journey. Books, photographs, adverts, bills and newspapers can all be found there. These provide a more personal account of Lancaster’s trading history. The photographs illustrate the changing shop fronts in Lancaster’s town centre, while the adverts and bills tell us which items were popular to sell and buy. From these we can start to discover what Lancaster was like years ago; this gives us a better understanding of the daily lives of shop keepers.  Photographs also tell us how Lancaster has changed from a thriving market town to a more commercial centre including chains such as Sainsburys and BHS. These sources combine effectively with the residents’ personal experiences to give a comprehensive picture of life in an earlier era.

The St Thomas More Centre hosts a local history group and it is at these meetings where history comes to life through members’ stories and shared experiences. Goad maps laid out on the tables are there to provoke conversation between the participants, but it is the adverts from local shop windows which create the greatest response. Memories are sparked by vintage adverts and discussion leads to the layout of Lancaster town centre and the shops which have since closed down. Tripe shops, clog shops and hardware stores were common in Lancaster town centre. There were no supermarket chains and everything was tailored to one’s personal needs.  Everyone knew everyone else, where they shopped and what they wanted. The shopkeeper’s relationship with the customer went beyond that of vendor and purchaser. The shop keeper was likely to be a friend, neighbour or even a family member. The sense of community Lancaster used to have is a hot topic among the history group.  The shopkeeper treated the customer with respect rather than just seeing him as a source of revenue. One member of the group referred to a major shopping chain as a ‘conveyor belt of customers’.   The group also commented on how we now live in a throwaway society- consider the excessive amount of packaging which comes with anything you buy. All products are now standardised and no longer come with any kind of personal touch as they used to. Each supermarket has its own range but underneath all the packaging, it’s all the same.

In earlier times much less food was thrown away than is the case today. What we would now regard as scraps were kept and reused to provide further meals. One older resident said ‘we used to ask the butcher for a bone for the dog. Everyone knew we didn’t have a dog, we just needed something to eat’. The end of market day was also a time to gather food for a meal. Local traders would give scraps to children from poor families rather than just discarding them. Whywas so little thrown away in earlier times? Because people couldn’t afford to discard potentially usable items of food.

What does all this add up to? So far as retailing is concerned, the past really is ‘another country’. They did things differently there. Was it better in earlier times? The residents we spoke to thought it was, many no longer shop in Lancaster but go further a field.





Human Scale

18 08 2010

As the project progresses I am thinking a lot about how the presence of local shops affects life in the community and the way informal things can happen around local shops and markets. Local shops sometimes foster a very human scale of vibrant life on streets and it is often the more personal, less regulated and more informal spaces like independent shops and markets that help connect people and communities together.

The issues of local distinctiveness and the idea of ‘creative city’ have recurred in my work across commissions in both the regeneration and art sectors. I’ve seen an important role for independent shopkeepers in shaping the notion of ‘creative city’ as a shared, flexible space; using the pavement a selling space, a meeting space, a space of exchange.

Projects I’ve been involved in Peterborough, Hertfordshire and rural Cambridgeshire all show that local shops encourage a very human scale of vibrant life on streets that have not been sucked dry by a shopping center. However this is changing alongside the implications of regeneration, new malls and the privatisation of public space and its going to be interesting to hear from Lancaster’s independent traders, both new and longstanding on their visions of the future.





Shoptalk

20 07 2010

I have been commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts to undertake a new commission in their Arts Talking Shop programme. The commission is to explore the issues and history surrounding independent shopkeepers and retail in Lancaster and it draws on my interest in markets, shops, common spaces and the way communities define the identity of a place.


The issues of local distinctiveness and the idea of ‘creative city’ have recurred in my work   across commissions in both the regeneration and art sectors.  Independent shopkeepers play an important role in shaping the notion of ‘creative city’ as a shared, flexible space; using the street and pavement a selling space, a meeting space, a space of exchange. The project will be exploring the inherent creativity of shopkeepers; how the presence of shops affects life on the street and the way informal things can happen around local shops and markets. Local shops sometimes foster a very human scale of vibrant life on streets that have not been sucked dry by a shopping centre and often its the less regulated more informal spaces like markets that draw their communities together.





Introducing Mid Pennine Arts: Talking Shop

23 06 2010

I’m Lucy Green, and I manage the Mid Pennine Arts (MPA) Talking Shop programme.

A bit about MPA first: the organisation has been around for 40 years and is a driving force for the arts. We create and deliver high quality artistic programmes which integrate Visual Arts, Creative Learning and Public Realm. MPA is based in Burnley and carries out a lot of work locally, but also works county-wide across Lancashire on several of its programmes.

Talking Shop is one of these county-wide programmes, and is a creative regeneration project which uses a diverse range of arts tools to engage small local shops and businesses in selected Lancashire neighbourhoods to research and promote their social and economic importance and to creatively investigate the impacts of regeneration on their sustainability.

We’ve partnered with Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, Storey Gallery and Lancaster University to commission Alice Angus to develop a Talking Shop project for Lancaster and As It Comes is the result.

We’re excited to see the work Alice produces and hope that the project encourages people to visit Lancaster and see all that it has to be proud of.

Lucy