Are the independent designers who attracted visitors to Old Spitalfields Market now under threat from high rents and increasing High Street-like homogenisation?
ChanChan London-based women's wear designer Photo: Caroline Paul
Back in the 1990s, London’s Old Spitalfields Market was mostly empty, used as a sports hall some evenings and on Sundays housing 400 food and crafts stalls. Now, it’s a ‘must visit’ destination in tourist guidebooks. But at what cost?
“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. “It’s so sad, London used to be a hotbed of creativity, but it’s becoming too expensive to have a stall here. Rents go up every year. Just look at what’s happened to Covent Garden.”
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.
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.
Are stallholders suffering as a result of this corporate ownership?
“Not at all,” said Amin A Phillips of Love and be Loved, whose designs include Tim Minchin’s Jesus Christ Superstar outfit. “I’m rushed off my feet – though others are dying a death. But I sell through boutiques in other places so if I’m not doing so well in one place, I can still keep going.”
Well-known food outlets are now an established feature of Old Spitalfields Market Photo: Caroline Paul
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, what had become London’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market was moved eastwards to New Spitalfields Market in 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 on Old Spitalfields Market.
A campaign by SMUT (Spitalfields Market Under Threat) supported by local celebrities such as artists Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George and TV presenter Dan Cruickshank tried unsuccessfully to save the market building. But three-fifths of its western end were replaced by Norman Foster-designed offices 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 originally operating only on Sundays after the fruit and veg market had left, the market now operates all week-long: Monday to Friday: 10am-8pm, Saturday: 10am-6pm and Sunday 10am-5pm.
Despite repeated requests for comment, the management of Spitalfields Market did not respond to Westminster World.