As you walk down Surrey Street in Croydon you hear the hustle and bustle of the oldest market in London. Fruit vendors yell out their latest prices, traders are locked in discussions about the price of fish and customers chit-chat as they collect their groceries. But those sounds are growing quieter and quieter.
Surrey Street Market has been trading since 1276 and was once the heart of Croydon town center. Today it feels tucked away out-of-sight and out-of-mind with fewer shoppers than ever, another sign of the “slow demise” of Croydon town center.
“We’m still here everyday and there’s no plans to change that, but Croydon as a shopping center is not pulling people in like it used to. Croydon isn’t what it was,” said Dave Welch, who has had his fruit and veg stall for 35 years. “We still have our loyal customers, people we’ve known for years, but there’s no passing trade anymore.”
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Market traders feel they are victims of the wider decline of town center and Whitgift Center, which is full of boarded up shops. Residents were promised a shiny new £ 1.5 billion Westfield shopping center but after plans fell through there was an exodus from leaving the town center a shadow of its former self.
Anti-social behavior has compounded the problem, with drug use and violence a regular sight throughout the town center. “Just round the corner from here a minute ago [on a Tuesday afternoon] there were some men having a fight, “Dave’s business partner, Caroline, said.” When there’s fewer shops than ever and stuff like that happening here it puts people off coming into town to do their shopping. It’s ruining it. “
As well as the wider decline in the town center, Caroline feels the council has left the market almost invisible. “If you stood at the top of the hill and looked down you would not even know we were here. There’s no sign, you can not see any of the stalls, we’re just hidden away. We begged the council for years for a sign but got nothing. We gave up on that, you do not go to the council for anything these days, why bother, “Caroline added.
Despite all this, there’s also an acceptance that the market is suffering due to changing shopping trends. “Where do you go for your fruit and veg?” Dave asks me. I admit, with a tinge of shame, that I go to Tesco. “Exactly. Our prices are lower but people still go to the supermarkets. What can we do? Things change, unfortunately,” he said.
Even though these are difficult times at Surrey Street Market, you’ll always be greeted with a smile. Jose Joseph has been running his fruit and veg stall for 15 years. After moving to Croydon from India he started his business with £ 500 and is now the proud owner of four stalls. He’s now running for a Fairfield seat in Croydon Council in the hope that he can represent the interests of the town’s small businesses.
Jose, 45, said: “The community has given me a lot and now I want to give back. The people who use the market, they’re not the rich people, they’re real working class people. I love being down here , we have special relationships with our customers.But business is slow at the moment, we need to boost the market.
“We’re here everyday, we have the great fruit and we have the best prices, but the market is empty. 95 per cent of my customers are loyal people who come here every week because they know they get a good deal, but we also need new customers and so we need to make it easier to get to the market.
“Parking is expensive, why not let people park for free for half an hour. Sometimes people are having to spend more on parking than on their fruit and veg, and there should be a tram stops closer to the market. It’s little things we can do to boost our town. “
For now, Surrey Street Market lives on and traders are resolute that as long as people need fruit, veg, fish and flowers, they’ll remain there. A long-awaited review of Croydon town center is yet to take place. For now all the traders can do is wait.
A Croydon Council spokesperson said they would be open to discussions with traders about signage for the market. They said: “The way people are using town centers has shifted in recent years and we want to make sure Croydon can meet new ways of working, shopping and enjoying entertainment for all our residents. We have continued to support small businesses and market traders throughout the pandemic, including through grant funding and through our Love Croydon Shop Local campaign. ”
What do you think needs to be done to improve Croydon town center? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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