Mon. May 23rd, 2022

Nicholas Cope says he’ll be lucky to serve one customer a day at his stall in St Johns Market.

Mr Cope runs a custom clothing and printing business, specialising in t-shirts, banners and flyers.

He says he now does 95% of business online, which enables him to employ five people.

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He adds that if he was solely reliant on footfall at the market, he “wouldn’t be able to live”.

Mr Cope told the ECHO : “My family have been market traders for 35 years. For me it’s about being in the community of the market. But this is how it is on a Saturday.”

He points to the quiet aisles around the market, many of which have unoccupied stalls with metal shutters pulled down.

Mr Cope added: “People come in here and they’re disappointed. They come in, walk around and think ‘what’s the point?’

“I think it could be easily turned around with a bit of attention and care, [but] it’s going to take hard work to get it going again. That takes time and we’re running out of time.

“The traders in here are suffering. It’s soul destroying coming in to set up early.

“Can you imagine standing here all day to make a tenner and you’ve got a kid and accommodation to pay for?”

Photo of Matt Hunt and Nicolas Cope
Matt Hunt and Nicholas Cope, custom clothing and printing specialists at St Johns Market
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

‘Fresh input and new, creative ideas’

In October last year, a consultation was launched by the council inviting residents, businesses and organisations to have a say on the future of the city’s markets.

One of the markets in question was St Johns Market, run by the city council and situated within St John’s Shopping centre.

The findings of the consultation are set to be published early this year, with hopes of finding clarity on the future direction of St Johns and another nine markets operated by the council.

Speaking at the time, Cllr Harry Doyle, cabinet member for culture and visitor economy, said there are hopes to make the city’s markets into destinations as much as centres of trade.

He added: “The end-goal is to develop a vibrant, attractive offer which not only appeals to residents, but also becomes a must-visit attraction for visitors spending time in the city.

“I’m a big fan of our markets but as with everything, fresh input and new, creative ideas can only improve what is currently on offer.”

Tensions

Based on Nicholas Cope’s account, St Johns has the most to gain if the consultation’s findings can usher in much-needed change.

However the market itself has had a rocky number of years.

In 2016, a “botched” £2.5m refurbishment led to a significant drop in footfall, leading to then Mayor Joe Anderson suspending rents in 2017.

The market closed when the pandemic hit in March 2020, reopening again in August of the same year after a row with the council over an inability to return to their stalls.

But tensions worsened when the council outlined it was looking to reintroduce full rents and service charges in order to sustain the costs of the market – which is said to have cost the council almost £1m in rent reduction and unpaid service charges between 2017 and 2020.

The reintroduction of rents was signed off by cabinet in January 2021.

Speaking at the beginning of 2021, Colin Laphan, chair of St Johns Market Traders Association, said traders had offered to start repaying rents on three occasions, but back dated bills covering months when the market was closed due to the pandemic led to “outrage” among stall holders.

In a previous statement in 2020 he insisted: “We are not freeloaders, we want to pay rent – but we will pay full rent when the promised changes are made, we want it to be fair.”

Commenting this week, Mr Laphan spoke about how the market feels “abandoned”.

Traders are now receiving bills of up to £30,000 for service charges, but many traders feel promises to revamp and improve facilities at the market have not been fulfilled and are remaining unpaid despite letters piling up.

It’s an on-going dispute that threatens to cloud any potential new future for the market, which is in drastic need of turning around according to its remaining tenants.

‘Morale here is very low’

John Dixon, stallholder at St Johns Market
John Dixon has been at St Johns Market since he was 14
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

John Dixon has worked at St John’s Market since he was 14 years old.

He started out on the stalls helping his dad put up shelving in 1969.

He told the ECHO: “I’ve been in here pretty much all of my life. It is a great market and in some ways it still is.

“But we’re arriving at a point where the council knows things need to change.

“Morale in here is very low because nobody in here is making any money as you have no passing trade.

“It’s a quirky place with people doing interesting things. But you wouldn’t know it was here.

“One of the biggest weaknesses is the amount of empty spaces. It could be one of its strengths. You don’t want to go to a market and see all these shutters. It gives off the essence of being closed.

“I don’t think the market is finished though, it just needs to change. Business is adapt or die. If you’re doing what you did 30 years ago, the world has turned.

“It’s not hopeless.”

George Mather and Joanne Mitchell, Chicken George, St Johns Market
‘We’re the forgotten market’ – George Mather and Joanna Mitchell
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

Facing across from Mr Dixon’s butchers counter is Chicken George, a long-standing institution of St Johns Market.

Its manager and butcher, George Mather, still believes places like St Johns are a hub of speciality and craft.

He told the ECHO: “When you go to a supermarket, there’s no conversation. They can’t tell you how to cook something, they can’t tell what’s your best cut. In a market you have communication with your customers.

“But when St Johns was booming, we never used to have supermarkets on every corner.

“I would call this the forgotten market, people have forgot we’re here.

“There’s no atmosphere. It’s lost its character. The people are still here, but it has lost so many of the old stall holders.

“People come in and ask where they can get certain products and I end up having to send them out of the market.”

For Lisa Traspasso-Emina, owner of Lisa’s Reborn Baby Dolls, the current situation is “frustrating” and the quiet scene today has been exacerbated by how long the market has been closed over the course of the pandemic.

Ms Trapasso-Emina told the ECHO: “Something, anything needs to happen.

“Our shops are full. The best we can do is just come in and hope. We’ve got to come in.

“There might be one day a customer might come in and buy a doll, then I know I have enough money to feed my kids.

“I can’t not be here.”

Lisa Trapasso-Emina, Lisa's Reborn Baby Dolls, St Johns Market
‘Something, anything needs to happen’ -Lisa Trapasso-Emina, Lisa’s Reborn Baby Dolls, St Johns Market
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

Ms Trapasso-Emina still regards the market as a “big family”, although believes it is being tested by the low footfall and service charge bills starting to land.

She outlines how she has contemplated leaving, but says she didn’t want to leave behind Siama Kayani who runs the ‘Power Pack’ stall next to hers.

Ms Kayani’s father, Ken, ran the stall at the market for 46 years, but sadly both he and his wife Aziza passed away over the course of lockdown in 2020.

Siama left her job to run her father’s stall as she felt a duty to continue his legacy, but she says the market has been “disappointing to come back to” since lockdown ended.

Ms Kayani told the ECHO: “Dad used to come for his customers. He’d come whether there was a death in the family, whether it was Eid, Christmas, he wanted that shop open.

“He never wanted to let his customers down.

“Now you come in enthusiastic and you go home deflated.

“There’s only traders stood around, and security. That’s it. It needs to go back to the way it was to be honest.”

Siama Kayani, Power Pack, St Johns Market
‘You come in enthusiastic and you go home deflated’ – Siama Kayani
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

The downbeat mood is reflected by Jeere Hussain, whose Bronx clothing stalls have been a feature on the market for four decades.

He told the ECHO: “I’ve never seen it this bad.

“The only way they can change it is by bringing customer flow into here. At the moment we’re lacking customer flow.

“We come from our houses, put our petrol money in, car parking money. We’ve lost to come here. But we can’t get out because we’re in a contract. We’re paying for a loss.

“The only reason I stayed on is because they said they’d do all of these jobs. Said they had a plan. Now we’re stuck. All the promises they made us are not fulfilled.

“I’ve got a £30,000 bill on my head.

“We need as much help as we can, otherwise we can’t survive. I’m having to live off my kids for the first time in my life.”

Speaking about the service charges that are piling up, including months when the market was closed, Mr Hussain claims if they were forced to be paid “we’re all going to end up bankrupt.”

Jeere Hussain, Bronx, St Johns Market
‘We’re all going to end up bankrupt’ – Jeere Hussain
(Image: Liverpool ECHO)

Hopeful resolution

The findings of the council’s market consultation are set to be published in a few weeks.

Some tenants in St Johns aren’t sure it will lead to the wholesale changes they think the market needs to regain its vibrancy and atmosphere, but it can at least be a starting point for mapping the future of Liverpool’s oldest market place.

However Liverpool City Council point out that there are currently no barriers in place to making changes to the market and that agreements have been made in regard to rent and service charges.

Councillor Harry Doyle, Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy, said: “When I took on this role last May one of my first meetings with the Mayor was to visit the St Johns Market traders to listen to the concerns they had around the revamp, and to put in place a process to address them.

“One of the outcomes was to launch the consultation on the future of Liverpool’s markets and I’m excited that the report will soon be with us in the next few weeks. The findings will be shared with all market traders in advance of it being published to gauge their opinions on the big ideas and what the next steps to be taken could look like.

“In terms of the current situation at St Johns Market, all the traders there have been billed for sums backdated to August 2020 in accordance with their tenancy agreements. This decision was endorsed by the Cabinet in January 2021.

“The council continues to provide support through mediation to help the traders with their payment plans, and we will continue to provide guidance in helping the businesses access Covid-19 related support grants. The market has a number of vacancies and the council is open to new tenants setting up in there.”

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