A recent report has called Oxford’s Covered Market “damned and dated”.
Markets consultancy firm The Retail Group has released a report on the market’s current condition at the request of the Oxford City Council.
The report complains of the market’s lack of signage and visibility and its “dark and dated internal environment.” Other criticisms include its lack of “high quality and contemporary dining or takeaway offers,” its “poor use of promotions,” and lack of an effective on-site manager.
The nearly 250-year-old market, The Retail Group claims, is “being left behind,” and is “out of sync with consumer demand”. The report further notes that the market should become a “very visible, relevant and integral part of the city’s retail landscape”.
According to expenditure reports, the council spent over £33,000 on the brief.
However, some vendors aren’t convinced by the findings.
“We need to keep the market as it is,” said one storeholder, who wished to remain anonymous. “But it also needs some repairing—the sides of the shops should be repainted, and some of the pavement stones are also cracked,” he stated.
Another trader said that visibility isn’t the problem, commenting, “Everyone knows about the market”.
Some though, are more optimistic. According to Joy Hetherington, who works at Oxford Aromatics, “A new market manager will see suitable changes through.” She added that any of the 53 vendors who wished to would be able to consult the Council on the changes.
However, other vendors and market-goers have taken a less optimistic attitude to news of developments.
“To change the inside or the outside of the market would be catastrophic to Oxford,” said two vendors. “How can you change something that already has an inner beauty?”
“If they tried to make it newer, it would be ruined,” said Daisy, a hairdresser at Mahogany Salon on nearby Turl Street.
Some Oxford students agree with the report’s findings.
William Tomsett, a student at Regent’s Park, commented: “The market needs to rethink how to attract students – few if any of my friends ever visit[…]As most of its independent stores which would appeal to young people are either hard to find or poorly advertised”.
“I don’t think we should write it off completely with places like Georgina’s and The Alpha bar making affordable and deliciously healthy food,” said Lauren McKarus, a Wadham visiting student. “But the market itself seems to be rather inadequate and loses its charm,” she said.
Audrey Holmes, a St. Peter’s visiting student, agreed, adding: “Extra warmth and light wouldn’t hurt”.
According to Colin Cook, a board member for development of the market, the Council is in the process of consulting on the report’s suggestions.
“We will await the outcome of the consultation before we come to any fixed ideas about how to take their proposals forward,” he said.
“I hope the Market will be a more vibrant place, with a higher footfall, and with traders selling goods people want to buy at a price they want to buy them at.”
He added: “The hiring of a market manager is likely to happen at a fairly early stage.”
According to Stephen Reeves of the Central Business Agency, the market’s leasing firm, there has been no increase in the number of shops for rent or sale since the report’s release. “I can confirm that demand from prospective tenants remains good and units have continued to change hands,” Reeves said, in light of the proposed increases.
The report follows an earlier squabble between markets vendors and the Council.
Five traders are currently involved in arbitrations over a proposed rent hike of nearly 70 per cent that came during a 5-year Council review, and followed an earlier increase in 2007. A petition to Save the Oxford Covered Market now has more than 11,000 signatures.
“The rent must stay down,” said two market vendors. “Little places […] couldn’t survive if it goes up.”