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Could markets be making a comeback in the north and north-east?

Inverness Victorian Market manager, Jo Murray, believes markets are in demand.
Inverness Victorian Market manager, Jo Murray, believes markets are in demand.

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Or so the nursery rhyme goes.

It turns out that you can buy a lot more than a bacon sandwich at markets these days, which are becoming shopping destinations in their own right.

The humble market stall, once a place where a bargain was sure to be had and gossip exchanged.

Long before the steady march of the high street or the clamour for online shopping, your retail experience could be found at the market.

It represented a place of connection, where the calls of traders wove themselves into the fabric of community.

And markets have even played their role on TV, from the charm of Del Boy with his knock-off goods, to the drama which often accompanies the market in EastEnders.

But as trendy chain stores encroached, followed by the lure of Amazon, markets slowly fell out of favour.

No longer seen as fashionable, markets were only frequented by loyal customers, with some traders hanging up their aprons in defeat.

But following the pandemic, which has contributed to almost 80 empty retail units in Aberdeen, could markets once again have their day?

With a strong focus on supporting local, independent traders have been welcomed with open arms.

Farmers’ markets in particular have proved to be a roaring success post-lockdown, with people flocking to support the open-air events.

From The Victorian Market in Inverness, which is something of an institution in the Highland capital, to Ellon Market where you can bag yourself a sofa and a box of horse’s teeth, we found out out why markets are once again on the up.

Jo Murray, Inverness Victorian Market

It’s fair to say that the Victorian Market has a had turbulent but none-the-less proud history, and market traders have sold goods in the grade B listed building for 151 years.

You can clearly teach an old dog new tricks, as the market, which can be found on Academy Street, is currently undergoing a £1.6 million revamp.

Inverness Victorian Market is undergoing a transformation.

The ambitious plans will see the market hall and fish hall transformed, with a food court created and further space where people can gather.

Supporters have hailed the plans as “transformational” in the hope that the revamp could bring more footfall to Inverness, with the market a signature destination.

The major change has not come without difficulty however, after 14 traders were displaced as a result of the ongoing work.

Controversy aside, market manager Jo Murray believes the change is proof that the market will continue to thrive.

Jo was appointed three years ago, and believes the market has “bucked the trend” in never falling out of favour.

“Before the pandemic, we were 100% occupied. We bucked the trend of other shopping type offerings, which is unusual,” she said.

“I think the reason for that is because we are a well-established market with a well-established customer base.

Last year we would have celebrated our 150th anniversary, there is an amazing history.

“We offer lovely small manageable units which are also affordable.

Jo Murray believes it is the personal touch which makes all the difference.

“We reopened in July last year and trading was very healthy. Following the next lockdown, we reopened in April of this year, and trading was slower.

“It was a slower recovery because of lack of tourist visitors.

“I think the trend right now is very clearly with food and experience.

“We have embraced that trend and our new food court will complement the retail side.”

But what has kept customers returning to the market in the passing decades, long before new plans got underway?

Jo is in no doubt as to what sits at the heart of the market.

“It’s the people,” she said.

“The building is lovely and you are very much aware of the history when you are here.

“We’ve evolved slowly from the meat and fish traders of the past.

I love this place because of the people. It’s the people who bring the customers in again and again.

“It’s that personal relationship. It’s not just what you buy.

“This is a social space, where people can dwell, chat and catch up.”

Jo believes that the shopping experience has come full circle, with a return to the more personalised service offered by markets.

Chocolatier Lucas Story with some of the produce produced by his wife, Ingrid, at Inverness Victorian Market.

“I think the pandemic has raised people’s awareness of local food operators, local retailers and what they can bring,” she said.

“Everyone in Inverness has some memory or connection to The Victorian Market.

“It’s a much more friendly, personal service than you could ever hope to get at a national chain.

“You are meeting with the business owner directly, and that’s what people love.

Danny Buckle, Ellon Market

You might pop to Ellon Market with a certain item in mind, but the chances are you’ll come away with something completely different.

This treasure trove can be found on Station Road, and contains a glorious mix of old and new.

It’s not just the items which are unexpected however, as owner Danny Buckle is only 32 years old.

And although the Yorkshireman claims not be an entrepreneur, the popular market in Ellon, alongside the bed shop he owns in Peterhead, would suggest otherwise.

Danny launched Ellon Market 10 years ago.

Open three days a week, Thursday to Saturday, the market is a hive of activity.

It boasts a mixture of loyal customers and those who make a day of it, spending the morning raking through the rows of quirky goods before enjoying a spot of lunch in the Aberdeenshire town.

“People always find any excuse to come in here, even if we’re not open,” said Danny.

He is in the middle of organising deliveries, as a small team prepare to transport items across the north-east.

From house moves to antique shops, Danny has an eye for the unusual.

You never quite know what you’ll find at Ellon Market.

“I often buy stuff for me and it’s always a mistake,” he said.

“Like the slide lantern we currently have. I saw it an antique shop and I knew it was going to come home with me.

“All of the brass dials on it still work. The thing that people like is that they see items which they can remember from their childhood.

“Sometimes we get handmade items which belonged to craftsmen, they made it to carry their tools in.

I often wonder to myself, how many miles has it done? Or we get a wooden kist, and the odd one has been all over the world with someone on a ship.

“Their relative will come in with it and be able to tell you all about that person, how he was in the Navy and the places he visited.”

Danny started the market quite by chance, having previously owned burger vans.

Danny believes markets now have a chance to shine.

“Quite often people would say to me that they were looking to get rid of something, or to sell a piece of furniture,” he said.

“I met people from all walks of life and all trades, and it would crop up into conversation.

“It started off when I decided to buy some furniture from someone who was moving house, and I sold it in Scot Ads.

“I sold a few more things and pretty soon I needed a premises. This place had been a builders yard and a joiners yard in the past, then it was a car bodyshop.

“Then it had sat empty, so I tracked down the owner and moved in pretty quickly.

“I used to have a little MG classic car and I was able to drive it right in and park in here. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find enough stuff to fill that place.”

Danny certainly doesn’t have that problem now, and you could easily pass the whole day exploring.

If you’re looking for the unusual, look no further.

“It doesn’t help my OCD one bit. There was a spell where we really tidied everything up, and customers were not happy.

“They like having to rake for things, it’s part of the experience.”

Danny’s original vision included numerous food stalls, but he currently sells furniture, antiques, beds and tools.

“The rest is for stalls which are rented out by people. In Yorkshire, where I’m originally from, every town has a market,” said Danny.

This isn’t what I envisaged, but we have stood the test of time thus far.

Danny found Covid challenging, as it was difficult to sell the numerous items online, with each piece in a different condition.

And although business has been unpredictable post lockdown, Danny believes that markets can step forward and plug the gap left by retail.

“I wasn’t at all surprised when John Lewis shut down, it was at the very back of the shopping centre,” said Danny.

“We’ve been lucky and we have very loyal customers who come in here week after week.

“We’re in the middle of Ellon and quite often people will bump into someone who they haven’t seen in years, even though they live in the same village.

The elephant in the room.

“The market is a place where they can chat, but you can still avoid people with the numerous paths to walk down.

“We deliver all over the north-east, and I think people like the fact that the guy they bought a sofa from last week also delivers it to them himself.

“People can spend hours in here, and I think now is really the time for markets to have their moment.”

Caroline Fife, The Duchess of Fife at Kinnaird Castle and founder of Chapelton Farmers’ Market

Caroline Fife may be titled, but she is certainly not immune to the power of a foodie market.

She has previously spoken to your life magazine about her love of Elisck House which can be found near Stonehaven, and her preference for a simple life in the countryside.

Caroline decided to hold a market at Chapelton two years ago.

What could be more simple and wholesome than a farmers’ market, where independent local traders can come together and sell their delicious goods?

From venison to homemade lemon curd, Chapelton Farmers’ Market has been running for two years and is hugely successful.

More than 1,000 people turned out for the latest event, which was held in May, and another market is due to go ahead later this month.

The event takes place outdoors in the town’s Burgess Park, with more than 25 stalls involved.

Caroline is confident that it will continue to flourish.

The event at Chapelton has proved a hit.

“The high street is so familiar in that there has been very little change over the years,” said Caroline.

“It’s very bland, you could be in a town anywhere.

“It’s the same offerings and I think people are left feeling alienated by very large companies that don’t relate to them anymore.

“Chapelton holds a market once every two months, although events had to be cancelled last year due to Covid.

“We don’t offer anything other than food and pet products; we have been quite picky about our offering,” said Caroline.

“We have 30 stalls plus six hot food stalls, and each time we try and have one or two new people to shake things up.

Hot food stalls have gone down well.

“Our May event was huge, I think we must have had around 1,400 people. Even at our November event last year, people spent just as much.

I think markets fulfil the original shopping purpose. To get out, engage and have interesting conversations with people who really know their products.

Caroline also believes that a love of cooking means foodie markets are more popular than ever.

Caroline believes people want business owners who know about their product.

“There’s been a resurgence in cooking because people have had the time,” she said.

“If you’re relaxed when you’re shopping for ingredients, it’s about the simple pleasures in life.

“Undoubtedly we have also seen the suffering of local businesses, and all of us want to put something back to make sure our neighbours are doing OK.

“I think markets will continue to flourish, it’s very exciting.”

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