Posted: 15/05/2015

Regular markets keep towns ‘vital and viable’ says new study

Camden Market credit Mike Clegg dreamstime
Photo credit: Mike Clegg dreamstime

Traditional town centre markets can boost visitor numbers by more than a quarter, adding to the “vitality and viability” of the high street, according to a University of Portsmouth study.

While owners of fixed shops such as delis have mixed views on the competition presented by temporary stallholders, who generally operate from a lower cost base, the research suggests towns with markets see between 15 and 27% more footfall than those without.

“Footfall is a key indicator of town and city centre performance, representing activity, usage and relevance,” said Prof lan Hallsworth, who led the study.

“Towns and cities with markets are attractive and welcoming to all, not just those with money to spend. We argue that a busy town is a healthy town.”

The report, commissioned by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NAMBA), says markets act as “incubators for small and micro businesses”, provide employment ­– often for several generations of the same families – and offer “a vital link between urban and rural life”.

Steve Harrison, owner of retailer Deli & Dine in Retford, Notts, told FFD that “on balance” he was pleased to be based in a town with active weekly markets, although market stallholders had hit his shop’s trade on specific lines such as fresh baked cakes and sausages rolls. “We will be beaten on price by a market trader with no overheads or wage costs, which is frustrating,” he said.

However, Retford’s regular Thursday and Saturday markets noticeably increase footfall, he said. “There is ‘bustle’ around the town centre and it provides a focal point.”

The biggest benefit came from Retford’s monthly farmers’ market. “That’s usually our biggest trading Saturday in the month. It certainly brings in people from a wider area and we’ll have retail customers place email orders from us in advance, for collection on farmers’ market day.”

At Truffles deli in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, owner Richard Mayo said markets could be beneficial provided they were “run correctly” and the stalls had a clear point of difference. “It’s like the high street,” he told FFD. “Nobody wants a generic high street, you want something different.”

The monthly Kempley Produce Market in Gloucestershire, which has stalls of produce grown or produced within 10 miles of the village, was a good example, Mayo said.

He added that provincial towns would benefit from more quality food markets of the kind found in cities such as London and Bath.

The University of Portsmouth found that markets contribute to all 25 key priorities identified in High Street UK 2020, a project to improve town centre vitality and viability that is being run by Manchester Metropolitan University with funding from the Economic & Social Research Council.

These include providing social interaction for people of all ages and backgrounds, generating income to support other local authority services and giving towns a distinct identity.

Prof Hallsworth added: “We can unequivocally say markets contribute to the economic, social and political health of towns and cities.”

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