I have never been crazy about shopping and the prospect of ever having to spend a day in retail therapy at Meadowhall or some other large shopping mall would fill me with horror. But I am somehow drawn to markets. A craft market in a local town sees genuine artisans displaying their wares, artists sketch portraits while you wait; at the many farmers’ markets around one can taste the hand-made fudge and locally made cheese or try an ostrich burger. It has to be so much more life-enhancing than pushing a trolley around Tesco’s.
Weekly markets can turn town centres in to vibrant colourful places where the rosy-cheeked stall-holders shout their wares. If all this sounds positively fanciful or Dickensian, check out Boston on a Wednesday to see it for real.Markets were of course the first form of retailing and, for the traditional markets still around, not much has changed.It is hard to believe that Some of our best-known High Street names such as, Marks and Spencers, Tesco, and New Look all started from a barrow or stall.Markets are still subject to certain laws; traders can be licensed to trade on a single pitch, but not at a national level or when trading on private land. This has sometimes led to declining confidence in the reputation of markets.In order to address this issue,a voluntary scheme has been set up by The Market People. It provides consumers with the ability to trace traders and goods as well as the ability to rate and contact the traders. A MarketPASS is issued to an operator or Trader once they have provided proof of identity, insurance and, where required, a hygiene certificate.Also,many of the older markets carry a “charter” which gives certain rights and protection. For example, another market can’t be held on the same day within a certain distance of a “chartered market”. These were awarded by kings to markets and fairs all over England, and are still valid today.
The nature of some markets though has changed; recent visits to Camden Market and Borough Market in London proved that they have become increasingly commercial; Camden Market was simply a series of retail outlets for goods made in China.Though the range and quality of food on offer at Borough Market was fabulous, the traders complained that rather than being thronged by ‘foodie’ buyers, it had become more of a place for tourists to buy gifts, hence they were selling their wares in pretty packaging, rather than the brown paper bags of old.
But the real markets are still around and it is these we need to support if we are going to stop Tesco’s taking over the world. In The Ecologist, Tom Hodgkinson wrote,… a greater number of such markets would encourage more people to find a way of living outside of the corporation. If there is place to sell your wares and a group of people who frequent that place, then you are more likely to make stuff at home and sell it. The smallholder can sell excess vegetables and eggs and honey. So you can actively develop a real alternative to wage slavery. This is good news for those who have been cast aside by their brutal employer in a recession cutback.” When you buy from a real market you know that you are supporting someone’s independent business-the exchange is a simple transaction between buyer and seller. Real markets are noisy, smelly, colourful, and life-affirming, supermarkets are dreary, homogenous, flourescent- lit and soul-stripping.And in markets there may be, as well as the stalls, musicians, debates and speakers. Has anybody ever had a profound conversation or moment of inspiration in Sainsbury’s? I somehow doubt it.