Annie Hall, born 1956 has been working on Jim’s Haberdashery stall in the market for 50 years. Sadly Jim’s are closing down later this year and will not be moving into the new market scheduled for 2019/20. She shares her memories here and talks about the decision to close.
“My earliest memories are growing up in the countryside, just outside Rochdale. I don’t remember a lot about the old market, I remember a cobbled area and a very cold alleyway, and all the traders had a lot of banter they were all very friendly with each other.”
The current market opened in June 1967 and was part of the modernisation programme taking place in the city at the time.
“When we moved into the new market they then started demolishing the old one. they took the frontage down and said that they were going to keep it, but it was the last we saw of it! I think there was a lot of mixed feelings, because people wanted a new market but there was a lot of feelings.. the old market had a better atmosphere, but traders got on with it. I think people just accepted that it was going.
” I worked here as a Saturday girl. My dad sold shoes and slippers originally and then he changed to haberdashery. I helped on school holidays. I don’t think I ever thought of what I was going to do when I was at school, it just seemed like a natural progression to come and work here. ” Annie says that she left school at 14: “I had been in a car accident and I couldn’t go back, when it was time to go back, I was 15 so could legally leave. My father was a very intelligent man and did a lot of teaching with me. I was working full time at 15. There were more men traders but they were family businesses and their wives came into help. I found it very entertaining, there was a lot of banter, no one took anything seriously!”
Despite the emotional attachment to the old Victorian Hall, Annie admits that the new market was initially seen as a better building and there was a feeling that things had to move with the times .” I can’t remember there being any campaign to save it…” A look at the Chronicle letters page of the period reveals no major opposition to save the building, but its loss is now viewed by contemporary eyes as one of the worst things to ever happen to Chester.
Early days in the market were “fantastic” says Annie. “It was very vibrant, more or less double the size. There was no supermarkets so people used to come in on Fridays and Saturdays, or early in the morning. There was a lot more greengrocers, a big fish market, the pet shop. That moved from the old market, so did the sweet shop. I think we’re the only survivors, there are traders that have been in with their parents business and then set up their own businesses ..
Jim’s have been on the same stall since 1967, they originally had another stall at the far end of the market, but when a neighbouring stall became available they transferred everything together. The market in the 70s was a lively place. “We joined in with the carnivals in town, we used to collect a lot for charity with the National Market Traders Federation. We had Victorian days and we did a lot of competitions with schools. It was a lot busier and a lot friendlier. Friday and Saturday, you had local greengrocers who grew their own, and a lot of egg stalls, home grown fruit and veg. If you weren’t in for 8 o clock you couldn’t get a stall if you were a casual trader. Traders were trading from 7 in the morning and they were busy.. ”
Annie enjoyed the vibrancy of the city’s nightlife. ” I don’t think Chester is as vibrant as it was.. Unless its just me who doesn’t go out as much now I’m older ! I did like the club scene. There was quite a lot of clubs. We all used to live with the fashions, I used to like Queen and Meatloaf and people like that and I still do! We used to go to Tiffanys. Quaintways was very popular. It was a nightclub like it is though, there was a pub next door. I was not quite 18, my father used to come and pick me up after! Annie met her husband when he was working as a doorman in Rascals on Love street and they got married in 1984. “We had a few years there before we settled down and had a son, now we have 2 grandchildren . ” Jim’s has very much been run as a family business with her father working on the stall up until his death in 2011, and her brother David joining the team in the late 90s after an earlier career as a chef. Her mother Marie helps on the stall every Saturday. “We’re not the Waltons but we do all get on well together! ”
She says that the decline began in the 1980s with the demolition of the City Infirmary. “That was the start of it going quieter. We used to get a lot of staff from there who were working night shifts. There was a big hospital there. People going for appointments there used to call in on their way over …
“From then on, they started moving offices out of Chester, the council offices went… where people paid rents and rates.. They started shopping at the other end of town, slowly bit by bit. Supermarkets had an influence, it didn’t impact straight away but slowly the got into the habit of going there once a week and getting their groceries. It was the change of shopping habits nationally, and then later the internet came along.. and that changed things completely. Everybody in the market was quieter. People who come in now, if they can’t find what they want , they say “Oh I’ll just look on the net”.
“It is progress” admits Annie, who is a big internet user herself. “I use all the gadgets! I feel sad for the traders. A lot of the things you get on the internet you’re disappointed with because they’re the wrong colour or they weren’t what you were expecting. I still go to the supermarkets , I don’t do my supermarket shopping online because I like to see what I’m getting food wise.”
The Northgate master plan has been brewing since the late 1980s and is perhaps closer now that it has ever been with the opening of Storyhouse and the new bus station in place. However the decades of frustration and delay have left a sour taste with many market traders. “We have still got our notice to quit from the first time” she says ruefully “Different councils have had different ideas at different times but this time it definitely is for real. It came close to happening- the market plan was to move to the library and the traders were willing to move there. There was great enthusiasm, but it fell through because the council didn’t have enough backing. ” The long term aspiration left long standing traders like Jim’s in a sense of limbo as maintenance issues arose with the building. Annie claims that the council left the market in a bad state.
“Nobody knew what was going on.. the council had let the market go into a bad state as they thought it was being demolished. We had to have a new roof put in.. that started to leak in and the company that had put it on had gone bankrupt so we couldn’t have it repaired.. ” Various locations suggested for the market over the years were inside the library building or a move to Kaleyards. The Kaleyards plan was dropped because the area couldn’t be serviced by large vehicles.
Annie attacks the decision undertaken by Mike Jones’ council to halve the size of the market in the 2000s. Although the decision was taken supposedly to improve the look of the market due to the lack of traders, Annie refutes this and says that there was a number of traders who wanted to move in, plus “when they do build the new market they only have to build it to the size of the smaller market.That could have been something to do with it. Theres not as many traders as there was and as one trade goes, that’s one less lot of customers coming in. Its very sad, but its true. ”
The 2008 Northgate scheme failed due to financial crisis. “Trade was going down and people were arguing with each other. The council were telling us one thing and some people agreed with them, some people didn’t so there was quite a bit of conflict between traders.” By the 2010s disillusion had set in, and many traders left the market. “The Pet Shop , the Handbag stall, which had moved from the old market, and quite a few others. A new group of traders have moved in, but others have still gone.” Annie reflects.
The new market, see (https://thechesterblog.com/2016/07/27/full-steam-ahead-for-new-market/ ) will be located on the site of the former bus station which closed down in June. “It has no no buses, apart from the Shopper hopper bus. We will be on a building site as the new one gets built, and when its built we will still be on a building site because the old market will be being demolished ready to build House of Fraser”… she sighs. She says the access problems and the years of disruption ahead have influenced the decision to close the business.
“I think people still want a market, if it was in a more accessible place.” She blames the decline firmly on the council and the lack of access, citing buses moving away from the station even before the opening of the new interchange. There was a lot of buses not using it… the coaches need to be directed into the market . People need to be encouraged into the market and tourists need better direction. ”
“When we filled in our application forms for the new market we weren’t sure what we were going to do, but WMC(Retail group appointed to manage the market move) made our minds up when they sent us a form saying our application had been rejected because our forms weren’t filled in properly. We have been offered support in making a new application, but we don’t want to go in. Annie admits she doesn’t want to move into the new site.
“The trades gone down, hardly anybody comes in this market, i don’t think the business would last being on a building site for years. It will be at least 5 years and I just don’t think businesses can sustain that. ”
I asked Annie how she thought Chester had changed in the last 50 years. “I think Chester could be promoted better nationwide as an historic city… I think the city has changed in some ways for the better and some ways not so good. The rivers been cleaned up, the city’s been pedestrianised. I think it was a bad move putting the bus station where they did. I don’t think that’s benefited the city. The car parking charges don’t encourage people, and theres a lack of parking spaces. For somebody coming in from North Wales it costs that much to park! I think its very expensive and I wouldn’t come here to shop. (current rate 8.80 for 6+ hours) Theres not a lot of variety in the shops- pound shops, charity shops and cafes. They could do more to bring in a variety of businesses in.. Stop the charity shops” she says “They have to promote Chester as an historic shopping centre, if they get big shops in the small shops will do well. ” She concedes that House of Fraser will be a good move for the city. “I give em credit for that! Getting them to sign up in such an unknown situation!” she laughs
Jim’s will be closing in September. “We’re very sad about the end of the 60 years, we have made a lot of friends over the years. If anything goes wrong most of the traders are willing to help out and get behind you. I will be sad. I have never worked anywhere else! The last 50 years, the majority of its been fun we have had good nights out and really enjoyed ourselves. It’s been sad to see people go, and I’ve lost my own father. My mothers nearly 88, she will really miss the company and she has made friends here over the years. ”
Her mother Marie looks back fondly at the early market. See ( https://thechesterblog.com/2015/07/16/market-memories/) “We had everything for Easter and Halloween, we used to go out ever Christmas for a do! At one time the market had a football team, I don’t think they got anywhere !
“It’s been more or less my life… It is sad to me and that, we started with nothing and we used to sell odd shoes in the old market, on Friday was “oddy day” and we tipped out a box of old shoes. We gradually got into more. The old market was always busy but it was always cold. The new one was next door, some grumbled because we were further back because the Forum was in front of us and people didn’t like that. Its the right time to go because we’re not doing anything… I feel very proud. We started with nothing. Customers came in with their children buying lace for dolls, and as they grew up they bought things for their dresses, and then they got married and they brought their own children in. The future holds “nothing” now says the 88 year old market veteran..
Annie says that now is the right time to move on and is unsure of what the future holds but remains upbeat. “I ‘d just like to say we’ve had a good time and would like to thank all our customers past and present for supporting us. “