Back in the 1990s east London’s Old Spitalfields Market was derelict. Now it’s a ‘must visit’ destination in tourist guidebooks. But are the independent fashion designer/stallholders who attracted investment into the area under threat from high rents, hipsters and increasing High Street-like homogenisation?
“Rents have gone sky high. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep doing this, I’m thinking of selling online,” said a market stallholder who wished to remain anonymous.
A US property group, Ashkenazy Acquisitions bought the market for £110 million from Irish property company Ballymore in 2013. Since then the Grade II listed market hall has signed up big name retailers such as Lululemon, Bobbi Brown and Rapha. Are small stallholders suffering as a result?
“Not at all,” said Amin A Phillips of Love and Beloved whose designs include Tim Minchin’s Jesus Christ Superstar outfit. “This place gives me a shop window and allows me to sell directly to customers. My studio is in Leytonstone, I’d never get the same number of customers if I just hang out there”.
Michael Alpert, president of Ashkenazy Acquisitions told the FT the market is “similar to other properties we have throughout the United States”. The company also owns Boston’s Faneuil Hall which features similar stall/trolleys along its side aisles and is housed within an historic building built in 1742.
There has been a market on the Spitalfields site since the 1600s when King Charles gave a licence for flesh, fowl and roots to be sold on Spittle Fields – then a rural area on the eastern outskirts of London. In 1991, the wholesale fruit and vegetable market moved to New Spitalfields Market, Leyton and Spitalfields Development Group (now owned by Hammerson) wanted to capitalise on the 150-year lease it had bought from the City of London Corporation.
Despite a campaign by SMUT (Spitalfields Market Under Threat), Norman Foster-designed offices at the western end of the market were completed in 2005.
The original Victorian buildings and the market hall and roof have been restored and Spitalfields is now one of London’s major markets. From operating only on Sundays after the fruit and veg market had left, it now operates all week-long.