Described as the “true jewel” in Norwich’s crown, the city’s market has been on the same site since it was founded by the Normans in the 11th Century. A bustling and vibrant focal point, it normally boasts 189 stalls and plays an important part to the local economy…. but then came lockdown and everything changed.
Just over a year ago it was named the “best large outdoor market in Britain” in the Great British Market Awards. But how is it coping with coronavirus restrictions and can it survive?
‘You have to adapt’
Brendan Read’s family has run Mike, Debs and Sons fruit and veg stall on Norwich Market for more than 50 years.
They reopened on 2 June, but had been doing home deliveries throughout lockdown.
“More and more people are coming down but you need to have your restrictions,” he said.
The 29-year-old said they were keeping customers 2m (6ft) apart and touching the produce was prohibited.
“Our customers have been very grateful that for the last three months we’ve done the home deliveries but now they can come out, they want to come out so they can see all the produce,” said Mr Read.
“Financially we’ve kept going, we don’t worry as we know we’ll be here next year and the year after. It’s just a dip but we’re not too worried about it.”
“Our overheads are low, we haven’t got hundreds of staff, we are only a small family business, so we’re doing well.”
He added: “You just have to keep going when you’re a small business.
“We are not going to be as busy as we were last year as we’re missing the tourism and so many regulars that you haven’t got at the moment.
“It’s just another year and you adapt the best you can.”
‘Regulars still like what they like’
It’s been business as “almost” usual for Zoe Brown and her mum Paula Taylor at the Cheese Man stall.
“We prepared ourselves to close but then decided to stay open for a little bit as we still had some stock left and stock was flying out so we decided to carry on opening,” said Ms Brown.
“We’ve been open ever since lockdown. We opened originally just Fridays and Saturdays, just nine until two, and slowly we’ve added more days.”
She said business has been a little bit slower but they have been doing deliveries and the financial impact has “not been horrendous”.
Ms Brown said being active on social media had been key.
“We’re on Facebook and we update every time we’re open. I think regulars still like what they like and we’ve had a lot of regulars still coming back and ordering for deliveries and that’s helped us a lot,” she said.
Overall, she said it was a “very difficult” time for the market.
“There’s not really the social distancing space, there’s arrows showing which way to go but there’s not much more you can do, you need people to use their common sense and abide by the rules,” she said.
“I don’t think anything is going to be that normal until at least the beginning of next year, we have our regulars so it’s not going to be so bad.
“But I think we’ll still have to be doing deliveries until the end of the year because people aren’t going to want to come out.
“I think the market is going to struggle until at least after Christmas.”
‘Footfall a fraction of what it was’
Scott Allen reopened his City Hats stall on 1 June, but up until then had to rely on savings to get by.
The stall is the 41-year-old’s only source of income and there “wasn’t much” he could do while it was closed.
As a result, he has decided to create a website “in case anything like this happens again”.
He said: “The footfall is a fraction of what it was, it’s worrying times.
“It’s tough for everyone I think. Things aren’t going to be normal for a long time now but it’s nice to be back.”
Mr Allen has introduced a “one customer at a time” rule to maintain social distancing.
He said survival will “come down to the rents and rates, and if we can get a little bit of leeway on those”.
“I just have to look at other avenues like online, that’s the future now.
“The market has always been a focal point for people but when people are worried about coming out then they are not going to as much.”
He added: “We need footfall, that’s what we rely on, a vaccine would be the ultimate thing then people wouldn’t worry so much about coming out.
“Until anything like that happens it’s just got to be common sense.”
‘The main thing is not to give up’
It’s been a challenging time for Alma Jakaj, who took over Jacket Spuds and More two years ago.
The 35-year-old said she reopened the business on 1 June but “it’s been terrible”.
“The last two weeks haven’t been so great but we expected that.
“On Monday things picked up really well because many other shops reopened and people were out shopping and came here for lunch.”
Mrs Jakaj said she received a small business grant from the city council but “otherwise we wouldn’t have managed”.
She said she was hopeful her business would survive.
“I do feel optimistic and the main thing is not to give up and to try your best and try your hardest,” she added.
As more and more stallholders return to trading, owner Norwich City Council said it was confident the market will continue for “many more years to come”.
It said almost every stallholder was eligible for a small business grant that will have proved a “lifeline” to many but “as with all businesses, this still remains an uncertain time”.
Matthew Packer, cabinet member with responsibility for markets, said: “The city is extremely proud of its market, a true jewel in its crown that is enjoyed by residents of the city as well as a major draw for visitors too…
“Custom is essential to support market traders and in turn the local economy and we will make sure we continue listening and talking to the traders about concerns or ideas they have, so together we can all help ensure this unique place can thrive.”