From easter eggs to paper mache dustpans

12 03 2011

In our Drawings for Stories exchange last December I met Marion who has sent some descriptions of Lancasters traders and the market. Like many people she remembers a time when you could find all kinds of unusual and specialised things among the traders.

When we came to Lancaster, we only went to independent traders, and I was pleased to see, for example, that Galbraith’s features in one of your pictures.   Gorrills had two shops, and there were about four that sold nothing but birthday cards and Easter eggs. Postlethwaite’s, the baker, was also a favourite destination, in premises now occupied by Gregg’s. An important feature of the Covered Market before the fire was the fish market, but upstairs on the balcony was a treasure trove of interesting things, particularly several traders who sold old postcards (all of which got burnt),  and even the kind of brush you use for sweeping crumbs off tables which, with its paper mache pan, I still have. On King Street there was a wonderful toy shop for some years, as well as one for jewellery and ceramics, both of them owned by  people with links to the university. The Rocking Horse Shop, near to C. E. Barrow, was much loved by everyone.  We still use as many as we can of such traders, including for meat, flowers and even our pharmacy.





Lancaster’s old market hall

18 02 2011

It was absolutely phenomenal in the old market (before the fire) you couldn’t walk through the aisles and get past people, there wasn’t a supermarket.  Lancaster itself, the town, was where all the food was; in the market and around about. It was so good to go to work there, it was really busy, people could by fresh all the time and you didn’t overbuy what you wanted.

We have survived through the loyalty of customers buying local produce, its the quality of cheese that we sell. We sell Lancashire off the truckle and you don’t normally get that in a supermarket.

The second in a series of posts recounting the things people have talked about during the project is about the old Lancaster covered Market Hall and the quotes and images in this post come from Ron Wood, the Marsh History Group and traders in Burgess Cheese, The Bacon Stall, Bebe Babette and D Gregory the butcher.

There was a single floor victorian market hall that tragically burned down in 1984, a new market was built and opened almost 10 years later but it has been a controversial venture as its architecture is very different (on two floors, with steps up to most entrances and defined stalls rather then flat and open plan) and its new position takes it away from the natural flow and movement of people through town. Far fewer people pass through its doors than did in the old market, as someone said to me;  If it was all on one floor and we were all together it would be a much better market. But despite this there is a great rapport between traders and customers, an a real sense of care about the produce traders sell. I always came home with a huge bag of market purchases from homemade ham, to local honey, Lancashire cheese to local kippers, and I wish I was much closer to use the market more often.

The market has been threatened with closure to which many people have reacted strongly, participating in protests that raise the issues of how important a community, social and civic space the market is. People I spoke to remembered that because the old market hall was on ground level they often walked through the market on their way somewhere, something they would be unlikely to do now.  The market now faces financial difficulties that must be exacerbated both by the aftermath of the fire and by radical changes in shopping habits, however in many of my projects people have told me that it is the more informal, ‘human’ scale places like markets (rather then chains or superstores) that give them a sense of community. It seems also to be one of the places where people feel they can easily find out where their food has come from, and markets are often one of the places where food can be bought economically and with waste rather than in set packages – so if you only want one tomato, you need buy one tomato.

The Markets are meeting places for people, so long may they reign – the  big chains and supermarkets are making the high streets like ghost towns.

A lot of the customers rely on us and without the market there would be a lot less character in the town.

On his blog, Ronnies Rambles you can see some of  Ron Wood’s films about Lancaster local life, the market, the protests against the threats of closure and the fire including his films:

From Out of The Ashes about the fire in 1984 and

The Stall Holders of Lancaster Covered Market March to Lancaster, about the recent protests against closure – below





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.





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.