Sunday, 1 March 2009

High-class shopping

I bought an excellent pair of shoes in Nottingham yesterday. It cost me £5. The shoes were last year's style and shop-soiled and I found them on a market stall, tucked away in a side street opposite the glossy and uncomfortable Victoria Centre. I couldn't face the Victoria Centre. It has a lively market area, which I love - you can get the best espresso coffee in Nottingham at a small Italian stall - but the main shopping centre, with its mirrored columns, lifts and escalators, disorients me.

I dislike shopping but sometimes the liveliness of Nottingham draws me. I like its atmosphere and variety. I enjoy seeing the Goths and political campaigners mingling by the steps of the Council House. I like the buskers and still miss the much-loved Xylophone Man. And while too many of the surviving shops are national chains, with windows arranged according to order from Head Office, the mobile stalls have been decorated with character and are set up with individual care. Much of the character of Nottingham as a shopping centre comes from these street traders.

Apparently the councillors disagree. They don't like the stalls where customers can buy a hat, an apple, a bunch of flowers or a hot baked potato - and propose to put all the stalls together, out of the way of city centre shoppers. They say the stall detracts from Nottingham as a place for "high-class shopping".

Obviously I'm not a high-class shopper. I looked at the stalls as I wandered round. Behind the Victorian Oven, which has been selling baked potatoes to the people of Nottingham for 24 years, there's a mobile phone shop, a branch of Ann Summers and a big Primark. Not what I thought of as "high class" but the councillors seem to have a different idea. The fruit stall and flower stall masked a large, empty - but very "high-class" - shop. They caught the sun and were so colourful that I wandered past them down Bridlesmith Gate instead of crossing the Old Market Square.

The street traders, who support families through their established businesses, are shocked at the Council's threat to turf them out of work in an economic crisis. Yesterday regular customers were queuing to sign a petition to keep the stalls. There's outrage in the local newspaper. I'm outraged too. What affluent, high-class shoppers does the Council want to attract? Bankers, perhaps.

I'm not a high-class shopper. Perhaps the Council will follow this absurdity by establishing a dress code and stationing bouncers at all entrances to Nottingham City Centre. Plainly people like me aren't welcome there.


Anonymous said...

Street traders are needed nore than ever in these hard times, some colour and non-uniformity is badly needed. We too have whacky Councils as must everyone.... at least our County Council had the brains to put £24x10-power of six into safe keeeping with an Iceland bank. And seemingly barely educated people seem capable of being well rewarded financially. We've one round here, got his ticket with an obsession with road safety. Bollards everywhere! Bollards to him! kllrchrd

quakerdave said...

I wish wish wish I lived in a place that allowed stalls on the streets. Over here, in most communities, they not longer exist, put out of business by ordinances championed by the major chain stores. About the only time we get to see stalls and tables is the one time a month they get set up in the parking lot of... a huge chain store!

Kate J said...

Those stalls look great... and if people didn't want them and stopped buying stuff they'd so go bust!
I hope that the recession will mean good old fashioned markets enjoying a revival, as people realise they are a cheaper - and more fun - way to shop. In many Welsh towns and cities we still have good indoor covered markets, selling everything from meat, fish, fruit & veg, cakes etc to crockery, second-hand books and records, fabrics, handcrafts... and always a good value cafe too. Some are permanent markets (like the fantastic one in Swansea) while others are only a couple of times a week. Last time I was in Swansea the market was buzzing! And there are street stalls too. Contrast with those "high class" and usually overpriced "clone" shops... like Principles - another one bites the dust.