I did some shopping this year in a sort of Christmas market; as normal I frequented the Stirling Farmers’ Market including its additional date for Christmas. Last year I did go to the Edinburgh Christmas Market, but beyond the alcohol was not too impressed. Having been lucky enough in the past to visit the Vienna Christmas Markets, others have in the UK felt like a pale imitation. Whether that is a fair assessment I am not sure.
This was all brought to mind by reading Ian Middleton’s blog ‘Who Really Foots the Bill for Christmas Markets’ published on the 5th January on his site Fifty Shades of Retail. I did think about simply re-blogging it, but am unsure of the etiquette, or for an academic, the ethical issues around re-blogging, which feels vaguely like plagiarism if not done properly. Anyhow that’s a debate for another time!
You should go and read the original, but to attempt to summarise Ian’s comments he basically says that parachuted-in foreign markets (often not very good) are not helpful to struggling local retailers. If they bring in any customers to the town (and that he says is a moot point), then they also divert it from local stores. As they haven’t paid rents, rates etc. for a year, why should they get privileges at such a critical time of the trading year? Ian also extends this argument to the ‘space invaders’ in shopping centres which pop-up in barrows and other units for a few weeks, destroying the architect’s vision and the trading mix. Promotion companies with no link to the space or worried beyond a making a short term fast buck or lederhosen wielding sausage cremators, it’s all the same; they are piggy-backing and free-riding on the hard work of long-term retailers in a place and space.
Now my experience of some, but only some, of the imported markets in the UK (and not just at Christmas) makes me somewhat sympathetic to his thesis. They are ersatz, pale copies of an original, adding little value to the existing traders. But, and it’s a reasonable but, others would argue we need events, interest, excitement and difference to draw people in to a place. And if the local retailers aren’t up to attracting this trade then that’s their problem. Do I feel I should support the year round Stirling Market? Yes. Would I be attracted by some different or new markets elsewhere? Then yes again. But I do include local stores in my market shopping trips and I do love a good market. Yet, when I see some of what we’re offered as Christmas fayre I do wonder if we’ve really thought how we generally use events to stimulate and energise places.
Ian Middleton’s basic point is that we need to work out how to support and enliven retailers who are there day in and day out. And on that, we can probably agree, but to do that we need to figure out how best to add genuine excitement and interest to our places, and not only for Christmas.
Anyhow Fifty Shades of Retail is well worth a read, whether you agree with his thoughts on Christmas Markets or not.