Setting out their stalls

Fleetwood Market feature. Bill Brown.
Fleetwood Market feature. Bill Brown.
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Step right up for Fleetwood Market’s best buy. A stall for a day. For £5.

If you have ever wondered what to do if push comes to shove at your workplace, this is your chance to try being your own boss, if only for a day.

If you look enviously upon the low overheads of a market stall, this is the time to find out whether petrol money and time spent setting up the stall and making it weatherproof will actually leave enough to make a tidy profit.

National Market Day is on Saturday. This year it is celebrated by Fleetwood Market, one of the best, busiest, and most traditional on the circuit, giving first-timers a chance. And at £5 a time it’s undercut market forces elsewhere – and thrown the safety net of public liability insurance cover into the deal.

The stalls will be outside – not within the two vast covered linked market areas. That’s great when the sun is shining, but you need some fortitude to brave the typical English summer.

Fleetwood will be repeating the fiver offer every Saturday through July. Established stall holders don’t mind, because they know new faces and different stock regenerate a market.

Fleetwood is one of the great survivors, but Wyre has added another market to its attractions – Poulton’s Monday street market. It’s been a great hit, as the world and his wife loves a street sale. Poulton already has a covered indoor market, and there’s a monthly farmers’ one too.

Traditional markets are fighting back – Abingdon Street in Blackpool a case in point, with its exterior given a welcome makeover which retains its traditional aspect.

Fleetwood’s market has seen its share of struggles, but with the trams now fully running, tourists are returning in force, along with those who continue to come by coach, every Tuesday. But with the market open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday all year, ending the often confusing seasonal variations, the push is on to attract more locals.

“It really started with Mary Portas’ campaign,” says Julian Brent, Wyre’s market manager. “We’ve also offered the cheapest rate of the 300 markets involved. Usually it costs from £15.50 to £17.50 to hire a stall here.”

Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Fleetwood and Lancaster, is visiting on Saturday to help kickstart the new campaign to encourage more to try running stalls.

“We’re keen that it’s not a one-off,” says Julian. “We’d love to help more people move into the market and make a living, and the National Market Traders’ Federation is offering all the support it can.”

Julian points out that federation membership is around £100, and includes public liability insurance, access to help and advice, practical support, sourcing contacts and other elements.

“I think it’s one of those jobs anyone thinks they can do until they try it, but it’s also one of the most satisfying there is,” adds Julian – whose own 19-year-old son works on the market as an apprentice to an established trader.

“At first, he hated the early starts, now he’s got into the routine, the whole work ethic, it’s the best grounding there is.”

A snapshot of new traders shows more moving in for a host of motives. One couple, Trevor and Pam Dabek, have invested part of a lump sum payout from former employers in a new market stall in the main complex – selling sweets. “We’ve always wanted to run a sweet shop,” says Pam.

Bill Brown is a second generation market trader, the business started by his dad in 1947. He’s a spieler par excellence when it comes to flogging rare cotton tea towels and other towelling. “My kids won’t be coming in, there’s not the living in it any more, but I still enjoy it,” says Bill. “You get proper customer service, good products and chat here.”

Scott Coward, 36, was out of work before getting a cleaning job at the market. “I enjoyed the atmosphere here so much I’ve now got a stall of my own,” he said. Now he sells toiletries and makes up his own kits as well as selling branded items. “I’m going to give it three months.”

If the key to success is high sales of low price items, master moulder and garden figure maker Jeff Bloom should have it cracked. His meerkats, hedgehogs and other figures cost 50p to £1, yet are hours in the moulding, setting, painting, drying, transporting and setting out.

The 68-year-old former chef said: “It started as a hobby. I retired three years ago and got a bit bored. Last year I started here. It was a learning curve. Caravanners love them, and it’s picking up now.”

West Yorkshire ladies Kathleen Bingley, Minnie Chambers, Veronica Daley and Phyllis Jacobs visit the market every three weeks, overnighting in Blackpool.

What would they like to see? “More clothes, shoes – and men!” says Minnie the market minx...