“It’s kept our whole business running”: How Altrincham Market has been a lifeline for traders

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When lockdown hit, many markets instantly closed. But Altrincham Market managed to keep going – and its traders will be forever grateful. We spoke to some of them.

In the 731 years since Altrincham was granted its market charter, there have been few more consequential days than March 18th 2020.  

That was the day the escalating coronavirus crisis forced Market House – the beating heart of Altrincham’s regeneration story – to close its doors. It was local confirmation, if any were needed, that we were truly entering unprecedented times.

Altrincham Market

But even on that gloomy afternoon, the Market managed to strike a note of optimism. “We want to keep your spirits up,” a statement read, “and continue to provide an essential service to you and yours and all those folks who have been encouraged to stay at home.”

Against all the odds, against a forever-changing assortment of obstacles and restrictions, Altrincham Market has succeeded in that early mission.

But it’s not just the punters whose spirits have been elevated by the normality inherent in a trip to the market and the connection, however distant, with fellow humans.

It’s been a lifeline for the traders themselves, as we discovered when we stopped by on market day recently.

Greengrocer Clem Warren

Donna Warren and husband Clem have run the market greengrocers for 30 years 

We’ve always been quite a popular stall. But when the pandemic hit last March, we did not know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if the market would still be here. We didn’t know what our turnover would be like.

Jen, the manager of the market, made the place so safe and organised. She only let so many into the market at one time, and there were volunteers that made sure everyone was spaced out. Even when the queue went from here to Marks and Spencer, we kept the customers spaced out at all times. Jen and Nick (market co-owners) did the town proud. 

We’ve got a lot of younger customers that are new. At the same time, we’ve supported and maintained our older customer base. Throughout each lockdown we have delivered goods to them. We made our practices Covid-19 secure too. We even installed a card machine too, which we’ve never done before, as people were not comfortable about handling cash. 

Fire Station Square Pottery’s Ang Matthews

Ang Matthews, together with her partner and Salford potter Ian Wild, runs Fire Station Square Pottery 

The market has kept our whole business running – we would not have managed without it. Jen structured the rents accordingly and has been very fair. She was constantly pushing all the businesses on Instagram, as well as keeping in touch with us throughout the crisis. Thanks to the market we’ve also built a really good following in Altrincham. 

We’ve only ever sold at the market, so operating from here throughout the pandemic has been vital. When the winter lockdown hit, Jen set up a ‘click and collect’ type service for regulars. Over a two-hour period on Saturday customers could come in and take their pre-ordered products. We would not have been able to maintain that for years but it was comfortable enough during lockdown. Without the market facility here we would not have been able to have done that.

I’m feeling optimistic now. We’ve followed the rules very strictly and adhered to them all. It always felt very safe here and it’s been great to come here and work.

Aidan Monks, owner of Lovingly Artisan

Aidan Monks runs acclaimed bakery Lovingly Artisan with wife Catherine Connor

We found that during the height of the pandemic people were coming back to the market. People wanted to buy local food from traders who believed in their products. People started to cook from scratch again, and became really concerned about their health and immune systems. This fitted in really well with our story, as our bread is made from special organic flour from Northumbria. We only use the very best grains and our products are incredibly good for gut health. 

The market has been vital in maintaining our business over the past 16 months. Originally 75% of our business was wholesale – supplying restaurants etc – and 25% was our retail trade. But when the March 2020 lockdown was announced, our wholesale trade went. The market has been so important for us to keep going as a business. People have continued to shop at the market for hardcore things such as meat, fish and cheese that bring people in. Unlike restaurants where people go once in a while, people come here all the time – that’s why it needs protecting. 

Market co-owner Jen Thompson

Jen Thompson and Nick Johnson, Altrincham Market co-owners

ALTRINCHAM TODAY: Why was it important for you to provide support to businesses throughout the pandemic rather than close?

JEN: The community is massive here and has a real feel about it. You can’t stop supporting businesses and the community when things go bad – you’ve got to play your role. For example, we have absorbed a load of the extra costs by reducing people’s rents. We are all in this together, and have made sure the people in the markets were looked after. 

AT: Did the community at large respond?

NICK: Our traders responded really well – they are all front-line workers, who have been there to serve people. Although some of our customers have been very nervous, we’ve had many positive comments from them too. Ultimately, we wanted to make shopping available for customers in a safe environment. When we first started, we couldn’t get people in fast enough because of the restrictions. To cope with demand we introduced the boxes, which meant traders could serve an extra 50-60 families a week. 

AT: Hopefully things are heading in a normal direction, but are you positive and optimistic about the future?

NICK: We’re not planning too far ahead, as who knows what is round the corner. But we know we are resilient and can adapt incredibly quickly. 

Photography: Claire Harrison

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