Living in London re-ignited my enthusiasm for markets. They know how to do a market properly down there, and again I'm not just talking about tourist food porn places like Borough Market (although I do still love Borough). I lived in South East London and extensive, well frequented markets are all over the place. Lewisham, Deptford, Peckham and Brixton to name a few. One of the more noticeable aspects of the London street market is that you don't seem to get so much social stratification as you do in Leeds and elsewhere. To put it bluntly there doesn't seem to be so much of the attitude that markets are just for poor people.
Photo credit: livesonline.sunderland.ac.uk
After a brief sojourn in Manchester I've recently moved back to the Leeds area, and since starting this blog back in January I've been keeping an eye on market related goings-on both on Twitter and in other media sources. It seems there is a wide ranging debate going on about the future of Leeds market based around the themes of what and who is it for, and whether it can survive and thrive in its current size and form. For me the answers are that it can thrive without shrinking, provided that it caters to everyone in Leeds.
I go back to my previous point about the perception of the market being a place for poor people. I could be wrong here, but I reckon that a fair proportion of the working population of Leeds (let's call them young professionals, to scapegoat a particular demographic) wouldn't dream of shopping in the market. Attracting in the groups who don't currently use the market is probably the key to a successful future. I'm absolutely not talking about wholesale gentrification here, just to make that clear. Turfing out the most downmarket stalls would be an unmitigated disaster. What I mean is attracting new clientele without putting off the existing punters.
Which in a very roundabout way, brings me to The Source. The idea is a simple one, but a great one as far as I'm concerned. The Source occupies a stall in a more prominent area of the market and operates as a sort of tourist information centre. There is a big map of the market on display, with coded markers showing you where to go to buy different things. The rest of the stall is kept free for demos, tastings, visits from other market stalls, non-market based food shops and so on. On my first visit freshly squeezed orange juice was on offer for a £1 and there were jams and chutneys to taste. Last Friday (and now on a regular basis) The Sunshine Bakery from Chapel Allerton were selling cupcakes, sausage rolls (which are amazing, more about those later) and other goodies, and on Saturday a local goats cheese company took over.
I think the theory is that new customers will be drawn in by promotion on Twitter and the web in general, and by names they are already familiar with (if getting an upmarket bakery from Chapel Allerton on board doesn't work on this front then nothing will). Encouraged by the quality information on offer, they will explore the market further and spend a bit of their hard-earned cash. I really hope it's a success.
Finally, what else could be done to improve things further. A greater emphasis on cooked food stalls and cafés would be great, and would help to encourage lunchtime traffic. A burrito stall, a Korean café and a Vitenamese café will do very nicely please!