FINALLY WE CAN BE PROUD OF OUR CITY’S MARKET
Not so very long ago, if you wanted to start a food business, Norwich Market was seen as the first step on the ladder. You took a stall, and if that worked, the next logical step would be to move on from the market and open a ‘proper’ shop. Staying on the market was seen as very much the second choice.
It is a measure of how much the market has changed that the situation has now almost completely flipped. Established food businesses are queueing up to have a presence on the market – with city bakers Bread Source being the latest to announce such a move.
It is four years now since the City Council conducted a large public consultation exercise in a bid to secure the future of our market. Despite much public money being spent on a massive refurbishment in 2006, just ten years later a third of the stalls were vacant, the market was failing to attract new, younger shoppers, and it was clear that if something radical didn’t happen, the city’s 900 year old institution was in danger of disappearing altogether.
The situation today could not be more different. In a world in which we read retail doom and gloom stories pretty much every day, Norwich market is one of the most vibrant parts of the city centre. Pretty much all the stalls have tenants, food businesses see a market presence as a boost to their prestige, and a whole new generation of shoppers have discovered the gems to be found under those colourful steel canopies.
All of this despite the City Council’s ongoing efforts to make the city centre pretty much inaccessible, and drive us all into the arms of online retailers (I do sometimes wonder if City Hall shouldn’t display a massive ‘sponsored by Amazon’ banner).
If you buy all your food at the supermarket, I urge you to visit the market. With three butchers, a fabulous fishmongers, top quality fruit and veg stalls, as well as merchants selling coffee, herbs and spices, cheese, oriental food, olive oil, bread, cakes and much more, you can buy more or less everything you need - and all from small, local, independent traders.
What’s more, in these days of supermarkets forcing you to buy big packets of food, wrapped in wasteful plastic, the ability to purchase, say, one shallot, wrapped only in the skin that nature gave it, is refreshing. If you just need a few grams of a particular spice for your homemade curry, no problem.
The market traders mostly own their own businesses. That’s important, because they are proud of what they do, and they know that to ensure repeat business, they have to give excellent and friendly service. They will happily chat about what they are selling, give you some advice on how to cook it, and even point you to other stalls where you can buy complementary ingredients.
The other thing which has really brought the market alive is the proliferation of street food stalls. Whatever type of food you fancy, whichever international cuisine you want to try, Norwich Market is likely to be able to satisfy your hunger. It is perhaps this more than anything which has attracted new shoppers into the warren of stalls.
I think this passed many people by, but earlier this year our market won ‘Best Large Outdoor Market’ in the Great British Market Awards. Judges were impressed by the way it had demonstrated the power of social media, worked with local partners and the city’s BID organisation, and particularly the way it has reached out to young traders.
From being moribund and on the point of extinction, in just three years Norwich Market has become the thriving centre of our city’s food culture. It offers really good quality food, sold in an environmentally sustainable way, and at surprisingly affordable prices. It is now a genuine alternative for your weekly shop.
I’d like to be able get a glass of wine there, and I’d like the market to stay open into the evening at least one day a week. If it can keep going on the upwards trajectory it has shown over the past couple of years, it will become a serious foodie destination.
No wonder established food businesses are falling over themselves to grab a pitch.
This article was first published in the Norwich Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.