Published On: Wed, Mar 13th, 2024

‘I’m the last market trader in my town – these two things are killing our high street’ | UK | News

A key cutter is the last surviving market trader in his town after more than 200 stall holders closed due to rising costs and falling footfall.

Les Brannan, 57, has worked at LJB Rutherfords in Northampton town centre for 42 years but is now the market’s sole trader.

The dad-of-two is currently losing an average of £800-a-week but is refusing to quit, believing the good times will come again.

He said: “I’ve been on this stall almost my whole life. I’m not going to quit. I can’t. I need to pay my staff and keep earning.

“It’s hard but I’ll keep going. I’ve seen lots and lots of traders leave. It’s never been as hard as it is now. At least I’ve read a lot of books.”

Les enjoyed a good living when he ran his stall in the historic Market Square where traders have been selling the wares since the 12th century.

Last February stall holders were forced to move to a car park a mile away while the town centre and market undergoes a £10 million redevelopment.

Council leaders have promised bespoke new stalls in new market which is due to open in August.

But low footfall at the temporary site, as well as spiralling costs, have sent many traders to the wall – leaving Les as the only stall holder on the 200 pitch site.

He said: “It will be interesting to see what happens when the new Market Square opens because it’s not clear if any traders will still be around.

“We haven’t been told how much it will cost to rent a stall. I’m assuming it will be double the original amount with was £100-a-week.

“I’d rather pay that than the free rent we have here at this site because I’m earning nothing. We’re losing up to £800-a-week at the moment.

“When I started in the market there were 270 stall holders open every day of the week and they were all full.

“Since moving to this site last year we’ve seen a huge drop off of shoppers who either don’t know we’re here or just can’t be bothered.

“We begged for a shuttle bus but the council gave us a taxi service but shoppers had to wait for it and when it’s raining that wasn’t ideal.”

There are a handful of part-time traders and food vans but Les is one of only two full-time market traders at the temporary site on Commercial Street.

The other trader is Hung Vo who runs a fruit and veg stall but he returned to his native Vietnam because it is cheaper to close then risk binning his unsold goods.

Hung, who had to sell his house to survive while running his stall at Commercial Street, slammed the council’s treatment of traders.

He said: “Do these councillors ever come down to the market? I’ve never seen one of them come down.

“Will they ever come down here to have a look what’s going on? It’s disgraceful. Two stalls. Everyone shut. No one walking past.

“I went away for a few weeks because it cost me more to stand and staff. I made a mistake coming back. It’s ridiculous.”

LJB Rutherfords is one of the longest running businesses in Northampton after it was opened as a father and daughter enterprise in 1965.

The business expanded into watch repairs and Les got a Saturday job on the stall in 1982 when he was aged 15.

After leaving school he went full-time, finally taking over the business himself in 2007.

Council chiefs are hopeful the new Market Square will open later this year but Les fears it could be too late for many traders.

He said: “I always said it would be up to two years pain for 25 years gain because I think the new market will be good.

“If I get a stall I can keep my stock there so I won’t have to set up every morning. That will mean I can save time and maybe even have the odd day off now and again.

“I’m sure some traders will come back, a mobile phone repair business will probably open because there are loads of those around and maybe a bike repair stall.

“We’ve had no updates from the council about the opening of the new stalls.

“The last email I received was one asking if I was planning on coming back. I wouldn’t still be here if I wasn’t planning to go back.”

A council spokesperson said: “The council is working with traders to offer support during the temporary relocation.

“Areas the council has provided support, including free rent, utilities, and facilities for traders.

“As well as, one-hour free parking and a free taxi to the market from the bus station and the detailed events program.

“Investing money into events and activities provides opportunities for the wider community.

“The council would like to encourage everyone to visit the market at Commercial Street car park to see first-hand the fresh produce and on offer.”

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