Keep up with Armagh i

Traders lament footfall decline at Shambles Market in Armagh

'It's just deteriorating and we're just getting by. There's plenty of ample space but without the footfall you're not going to have new traders and that's just the bottom line'

“You wouldn’t even know there was a market here. If you were driving past you’d drive straight on.”

Those were the words of Brian Campbell, who has been selling plants at the Shambles Variety Market in Armagh for 20 years.

In his time operating a flower stall in the Shambles Yard on the Cathedral Road, he has seen a lot of change.

“About 20 years ago I was very lucky to get in,” he said. “The place was absolutely bunged. Now, the traders don’t come because they’re not selling enough and the people don’t come because the traders aren’t here.”

The Market is held every Tuesday and Friday and was for a long time a staple in the local community.

When Armagh I visited the yard on Friday morning, there were six stalls in operation, selling fruit, veg, flowers, workwear and a variety of other items.

It was a far cry from what many say the Market used to be – a hive of activity with traders vying for spots.

The key problems on the lips of all the traders we spoke to were in accord. Footfall is well down and they attribute it mainly to parking and a lack of advertising.

James, one trader who has been at the Market for 34 years, says there needs to be more coverage in media and on radio to make people aware the Market is running. In his time, he has seen the Market decline hugely.

“In my time there were 100s of stalls. The place was full, completely jammed. Now there’s what…four?

“It’s unbelievable the change; 30 years ago this place was full. You couldn’t have got a pitch in here.”

We asked another trader, who has been at the Market for around ten years, how footfall has changed. He just asked us to look around.

“You can see yourself the state of the Market. What more can I say? I’m still here, just about. It’s a different generation now. There’s no stall holders we can say to come and try Armagh. How would you make a living out of it?”

Despite the lack of footfall and traders in the yard itself, one can’t help but contrast this with the filled car park sitting mere yards away.

Parking is an issue that all the traders highlighted as a burden on the Market, with the nearby free car park being used primarily by motorists going elsewhere.

“When we get customers in here, there’s nowhere to park because the all-day parkers park here and it doesn’t give much leeway for customers,” said one trader, who operates a fruit and veg stall.

She sang very much from the same hymn sheet as everyone else – “footfall is very poor. We need a good boost.”

She has helped run the fruit and veg stall for over 28 years and has seen huge decline in that time.

“At this stage it is hard to make a living because we find this last couple of years we’re just getting by and nothing more. 28 years ago there’d have been a lot more stalls and a lot more variety. Since lockdown it just put a stop to the Market. Now everyone is buying online.”

When asked if more could be done, she said: “Council do promote it but we just can’t get the footfall in. The local people do support it but it’s getting them in every week. We just have the reliable customers and there’s very few new customers.

“You’d need a lot more footfall and a lot more attraction. How do you attract new people and new traders to the Market when there’s no footfall?”

She added: “It’s just deteriorating and we’re just getting by. There’s plenty of ample space but without the footfall you’re not going to have new traders and that’s just the bottom line. It needs support and the car park needs looked at but how you would go about that, I don’t know!”

Flower seller, Brian, echoed the sentiments around parking.

“If you look around there’s no customers here, but the whole car park’s full”, he said. “Customers come in and they drive around and around before they get a parking space. You could maybe have the first row of spaces as market-only but I don’t know how you’d enforce that.”

He says that advertising and signage could be improved, which may improve the Market’s fortunes.

“Even a wee sign up at the roundabout or something. There’s not a thing to identify this place as a market.”

He continued: “People are very habitual. They came down here all the time, then we had to move to Sherry’s Field and that put a whole lot of them off and they never came back.”

He admitted, however, that trade could be worse.

“I do Banbridge Market on a Saturday and I do better here than I do in Banbridge. I do a reasonable wee trade here and I’m happy enough with it. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take a bit more but I’m happy. It would be nice to get a few more traders in.”

Sinn Féin councillor John Óg O’Kane is among those urging council to do more to address the concerns of traders.

Speaking after a meeting with local traders he said: “One of the issues they raised was around car parking spaces meant for customers at the market were being used by commuters. Another issue was what they felt was the lack of a clear long term plan or vision by the council for the market.

“The Shambles Market has massive unrealised potential to be a hub for local independent traders, artists and others, like many other markets and if managed right could serve as an additional tourist attraction for the city.

“We will be passing these issues on to the council and following up to see what solutions they can offer to address these concerns and to help the market realise its full potential.”

Sign Up To Our Newsletter

Most read today

NEWRY – SHOP LOCAL

More in Armagh