From a Pin to an Elephant

Posted by editor on September 21, 2009 under Community

Continuing his series on east Manchester markets, Len Grant takes a stroll around the stalls at Newton Heath where the traders have their sights set on better times.

Newton Heath MarketBraising steak, brisket, mince meat, rib-eye steak, boneless loin, it’s all flying out of Bernard Kelly’s butcher’s stall at Newton Heath Market.

“You’ll want a bit o’ fat with that, won’t you?” Bernard suggests to Mary from Collyhurst, one of his regulars.

“Oh, yes please,” she says, and then to me: “He’s taught me the secret of cooking beef, he has.”

Mary does most of her shopping at markets and prefers them over the high street shops, but she’s disappointed with her favourite market. “It’s gone downhill here since all the changes,” she says. “We used to have cobblers and a watch repairer, there were lots more stalls.”

To avoid the market closing, Manchester City Council took over the site last year with plans to refurbish it. Hoardings around the outside still proclaim a new, improved market. The whole place was closed down for a couple of months whilst old stalls were replaced but business never bounced back. Some traders left altogether and, most crucially, many customers changed their shopping habits and have not returned.

Ali Shafqat with his son: family-run for 25 years

Ali Shafqat with his son: family-run for 25 years

“People don’t like change, do they?” declares 25 year-old Moazum Ali, from the hosiery stall their family has run since Moazum was born. Judging by the number of customers on this damp Wednesday afternoon, it seems they don’t.

Well wrapped-up, local resident Rose is enjoying a cup of coffee and a cigarette with her friends in the café’s gazebo at the other end of the market. Rose has been a regular for 30 years.

“Back then every stall was taken,” she recalls. “The place was hammered, absolutely hammered.”

“What sort of things could you get?” I ask, although I’m pretty sure of her answer.

“Everything. Everything from a pin to an elephant. Now we’ve no shoe stall, no fruit and veg. We’ve only got one knicker stall now. Oh, we used to get our knickers off a lovely fella…”.

Dorothy Lees: "It'll be one of Mancester's best markets again."

Dorothy Lees: "It'll be one of Mancester's best markets again."

I leave Rose and her pals to their lingerie reminiscences and have a chat with the café’s owner, Dorothy Lees.  “I’ve been here for 20 years,” she tells me. “It was a brilliant market then. I used to queue up at 5.30 in the morning and was lucky if I got a stall even then. Gradually, over the last 18 months, traders have left and this is what we’ve ended up with.”

But now the remaining traders have agreed with the council to form a co-operative and, from this month, will be running the market themselves. “It’s the best option for us,” says Steve Hopwood, from behind the rails of his ladies’ fashions. “Then it’ll be up to us what we do. For a start we’re having a car boot sale every Sunday starting at the end of the month. 6am ’til 1pm. Put that in your article.”

Steve Hopwood: "We'll be having a car boot sale every Sunday morning."

Steve Hopwood: "We'll be having a car boot sale every Sunday morning."

“I will,” I promise.

Despite the upheaval, there is lots of optimism for the future. Tricia McElwee has been on Newton Heath for just three years and her handmade, personalised cards and silk flowers have been selling well. “I tried Hyde and Rochdale markets before here,” she says, “and this is the best place. What I do is completely different, and I’m very reasonable.”

“People love markets, don’t they?” says Dorothy. “They love a bargain and the personal service. I think if we can get the custom back then it’ll be one of the best markets in Manchester again.”

Tricia McElwee: selling well at Newton Heath

Tricia McElwee: selling well at Newton Heath

With all this determination and enthusiasm, I think she may be right, but don’t expect to see the elephants back again.

Newton Heath Market on Droylsdon Road is open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Car boot sales start on September 27th 2009 at 6am.

If you are interested in taking a stall call Dorothy on 07899 807697.

Lease of Life

Posted by editor on July 16, 2009 under Community

Once a thriving community hub, Grey Mare Lane Market in Beswick has seen better times. But now, with the traders running the place themselves, a reverse of fortunes looks likely. Len Grant continues his series about east Manchester’s markets.

Gray Mare Lane Market: pretty much everything

Grey Mare Lane Market: it's got pretty much everything

“It’s a cat repellent you’re after?” asks Mavis, checking the stock at the back of the stall.

“Yes, to keep them out of the garden. I’ve tried pepper and it doesn’t work.”

“No, it won’t,” agrees Mavis. “We’ve not got any today, but I could get some in for Saturday.”

“Oh, yes please.”

Cat repellent from a pet stall? A strange request maybe but customer service is what markets are all about.

Mavis and her husband set up the stall here on Grey Mare Lane Market in the early 70s and it’s been run by their son, Clint – with help from Mavis – for the past 25 years. Clint is one of five long-serving stallholders who now operate the market as a cooperative.

Clint Hanham: "We'll have new customers and more traders."

Clint Hanham: "We'll have new customers and more traders."

“It’s gone through lots of different phases,” says Clint as he shows me round enthusiastically. “It was a lot bigger in the 70s and 80s, but we lost customers when the Beswick flats came down and people moved away. Now, with all this new regeneration – all being well – we’ll have new customers, and that will bring more traders.”

The market would benefit from a few more traders but there’s still plenty on offer to make it popular. The outside stalls, with their blue metal roofs, have women’s and men’s fashions, second-hand furniture, sweets and chocolates, DVDs, books, matresses, rugs, electrical appliances… pretty much everything. In the permanent stalls along two sides of the market, there are a dozen or more retailers including a butchers, a little café and Norman’s Jewellers.

“You’ve been here as long as me, haven’t you Norman?” Clint says by way of an introduction. Norman’s stall is an Aladdin’s cave: display cases at the front and an assortment of paintings, bric-a-brac, books and soft toys in ‘organised disorder’ at the back.

"I'm a bit old-fashioned. I still believe in good service."

"I'm a bit old-fashioned. I still believe in good service."

As we chat a valued customer comes to collect a chain Norman has repaired for her. Once their transaction is complete, I ask her how long she’s been coming to Norman’s. “Oh, years,” she laughs. “More than I’d care to remember.”

“And what is it about the market that’s appealing?”

“It’s convenient, reasonably-priced and always friendly,” she says as she wanders off to another stall. Norman seems happy with that testimonial. “I’m a bit old-fashioned,” he says. “I still believe in good service, the personal touch. You don’t get that in the bigger stores. Treat people how you’d like to be treated and you won’t go far wrong.”

I realise during my tour that I’ve been confused about Grey Mare Lane Market all these years. There are actually two markets here: Clint and his cooperative run the blue-roofed market on the front but the older market at the back – which looks more like a shanty town – is managed completely separately. The ‘back market’, as it’s called, has row upon row of tightly-packed, crumbling wooden stalls. Plastic sheeting covering the narrow walkways, corrugated iron sheets and barbed wire give it a less than inviting feel.

“That used to be a really busy market and we’d to benefit from it,” says Gilly Brierley, another of the cooperative members, “but now I think they are getting the benefit of our customers.”

Gilly Brierley: the same customers for 15 years

Gilly Brierley: the same customers for 15 years

Gilly has been at Grey Mare Lane for the best part of 25 years. First he and his wife ran a curtains stall but now he sells cleaning products while his wife sells shirts from the next door unit.

“I’ve had the same customers for 10 or 15 years,” he says, “so you can’t be selling any rubbish, or they won’t come back.”

As if to reinforce his point, an elderly man approaches the stall, picks a large pack of toilet rolls and hands over £2.

“Thanks, mate,” says Gilly, and then as the man walks away, “he’s buys the same thing every week. If I’m not on the stall, he just leaves his money here on the top.”

You can’t really see that happening in Asda.

Grey Mare Lane Market, on the corner with Alan Turing way, is open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Telephone: 0161 223 5742

A New Way of Shopping

Posted by editor on April 16, 2009 under Community

In the first of a series about east Manchester’s markets, Len Grant takes a tour of the new Gorton Market.

Gorton Market has it all

“Do you have any mousetraps?” asks one of Khalid’s regular customers. “You know, the old-fashioned kind. It’s for my son, he’s got a restaurant on one side of him and a takeaway on the other. He’s overrun with them.”

Despite being called Electrical Land, stallholder Khalid Anwar does indeed have wooden mousetraps amongst the stacks of CDs, scart leads and mobile phone accessories.

“Tell your son to use chocolate instead of cheese,” I suggest as the money changes hands. Khalid nods in agreement. “Chocolate? Are you winding me up?” exclaims his customer. “Do you know that from experience?”

It’s not the sort of conversation I could imagine having at the Tesco Extra checkout on the other side of the new car park, but here at the indoor Gorton Market it seems wholly appropriate to offer some friendly advice. And yes, I know from experience that chocolate works better than cheese.

Armed with her mousetraps, Dorothy Guy from West Gorton tells me she’s been coming to the market for as long as she can remember. This time last year she’d have done her shopping in the crumbling indoor market hall and what was left of the rickety outdoor stalls. All that is now parent and child spaces. This hall, with it’s 30-odd stalls, was formerly a Co-operative supermarket but converted by the City Council to a market hall as part of the new-look Gorton centre. Not everyone has been happy with the change.

Gorton Indoor Market

“You’ve got to move with the times, haven’t you?” says Dorothy philosophically. “There’s still a good atmosphere here, there’s always plenty of banter.”

Khalid is less optimistic. “Before it was better,” he says, “more people came to the old place. I think there was more variety then.”

I remember visiting the old market in its final days and photographing the small businesses as they closed down, some for the last time. There was a lot of history on that site, a lot of good memories, but it looked dreadful… it was on its knees.

Sheila Goodwin: "It's a new way of shopping."

Sheila Goodwin: "I can carry much more stock and offer a better variety.”

Sheila Goodwin, who has run Goody Two Shoes with her husband since 1982, certainly prefers the new environment. “There’s no more loading and unloading, no more setting up and getting ‘weathered’. I can carry much more stock and offer a better variety.”

But, I ask, what about the customers? “We’ve lost a few and gained a few,” she says, “people don’t like change, do they? But this is the new way of shopping.”

Market Manager, Keith Payne, knows something about the ‘new way of shopping’. Although he’s only been here since the relaunch, he has an impressive track record. On his laptop in his back office he shows me graphs of monthly ‘footfall’ – it’s up for February – and outlines his plans to make Gorton a shopping destination.

“We’ve introduced an antique and craft table-top market on Wednesdays and Sundays,” he says, “and, in the service yard outside, there’s now a car boot sale every Sunday.”

After consulting with local businesses and residents he’s also considering launching an outdoor specialist street market. “It would add some colour and atmosphere to the overall shopping experience,” he says. “It’s got to be good for the community.”

Tesco, he suggests, should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. “Customers coming to the superstore are also impressed with what we have to offer, so that’s all positive.”

I have to admit I’m a supermarket man myself. I guess my shopping habits contribute to  what is, nationally, a downturn for markets. Although I hate the idea of giving yet more money to the big retailers, my distaste is outweighed by the in-out, grab-and-go opportunity. I’d love more chocolate versus cheese discussions but there just isn’t time.

Tesco’s influence on trade at the market is debated. Café owner, Pete Savori of the Manchester ice cream family, is unsure whether there are now more mouths to feed. His strategy is to offer something special: “We prepare simple, home-cooked food that’s fairly priced. Yes, we could always do with more customers but the market hasn’t been open a year yet, it’s still a work in progress.” His fish and chips are mouth-watering, better than any I’ve tasted in any supermarket café.

André Janjic: "Tesco has brough in new customers."

André Janjic: "Tesco has brought in new customers."

From stall to stall, it soon becomes clear than there are as many different opinions on the new market hall as there are traders. André Janjic took over his cooked meats business from his previous boss, John Singleton. “We still keep the name,” he says, “but I now own the business and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I love it. We’re in a good position here, just off the car park, and business has been good. Tesco has brought in new customers, there’s no doubt about it.”

The fish stall is not doing as well but, as Trevor Marshall of Hills Fish and Poultry explains, it’s more to do with the product itself. “The younger generation just don’t want to be bothered handling fresh fish,” he says. “Most of them just want a bag they can pop in the microwave: ping and ding, job done.” I feel my cheeks go the colour of the red snapper in front of me. Yes, I think I’m a ‘ping and dinger’. Trevor has been on the market for over 30 years, so he’s seen the trends. “There’s no way I could have stood here on a Friday chatting to you… there’d be a queue as long as you like…”

Trevor Marshall of Hills Fish: "It's just ping and ding nowadays."

Trevor Marshall of Hills Fish: "It's just ping and ding nowadays."

What the markets have over their rivals – whether regular shops or supermarkets – is the atmosphere, the chat and the personal relationships that are established between shopper and trader. Ivy Buckley is in line to be served by her butcher, George Wiltshire, who is giving his customers an analysis of Man City’s performance last night. “Robinho was unlucky with that one off the bar, wasn’t he?”

“Oh, they’re all very pleasant and friendly,” Ivy says to me later, “in the supermarkets it’s all quick service and it never looks as fresh as in here.

“What do I get for doing this interview,” she quips, as she drops her sausages into her shopping bag, “… a leg of lamb!”

Link to Manchester Markets website