After 55 years Chester Market closed its doors for the last time on Saturday night. Traders of the past and present gathered for the final late night social prior to the long-awaited New Market opening in November. It was a night for the Chester history books and nostalgia themed Facebook pages of the future with the dying hours of the building’s long life soundtracked by a DJ Set from Underplayed Decade
Opened in 1967 the Market replaced the much-loved old Victorian Market (built 1865) which once stood next to the Town Hall. It’s demolition over half a century ago, still leads to appeals for the long dead council members of the time to be punished for the “unforgiveable vandalism”. On opening day however, visiting MP James MacColl, who was Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, told the Chester Chronicle that “Chester leads the country in its attempt to blend its historical legacy with the needs of a modern community.” The leaders of the time were kind enough to leave a tiny strip of the beautiful frontage behind as a reminder of what we once had. The building itself has never been well loved by the public with the contemporary fashion of it’s 60s brutalist architecture not seen as in keeping with historic Chester. How will history remember this market?
The Market’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years, a victim of ever-changing shopping habits and the rise and rise of the internet. The decaying building was plagued by a leaking roof, broken toilets and power cuts, and has been overshadowed for two decades by the promise of a new home, which has now at last been delivered. The building has been at the heart of the community for decades, and a final walk of the decaying empty shell brought many memories to the surface, of friends made and happier simpler times. Buying a pic n mix to take to the Odeon, buying a hamster from the pet shop and taking it home in a cardboard box via the adjacent bus station, reading the Evening Leader in the Market Cafe, in recent years, the buzz of the food court. Many digital tears have been shed over the closure, although sadly these seem to be from people that haven’t shopped in the building since 1996. Nostalgia and sentiment have not paid the bills of the departing traders over the years. The much-loved sweet shop, with over 100 years of trading across 2 sites, closed in spring 2021.
The movement of the bus station, a shifting of the jigsaw pieces to enable future development was another controversial change which further affected trade and took away some footfall. Yet in 2017-18 new ideas and an influx of young innovative traders made the market fashionable and a cool destination again. Pioneers like Nice Bites, Bookingham Palace, Stile Napoletano, That Beer Place and others regenerated the market and gave hope for the future. The introduction of the food court replacing many of the stalls of departing non-food traders led to angry claims that the market was being killed or that it was no longer “a real market”. Further new ideas including live music, record fairs and other activities made the Market a focus of the community in the last few years before the crippling effects of the pandemic.
Post Covid there was a further departure of traders, plus anger from traders who were rejected for the new market and from that chose not to apply due to the different trading requirements of the future model. Many will have expected the New Market to be the old one simply transported to a shiny new home, but reality has proven otherwise. Many of the departing traders have, happily, moved onto their own premises. With longer opening hours, a mix of established independents moving across, and many new features including 400 seats, a stage and a TV screen, the New Market gives many reasons for optimism. As part of the Northgate Development the potential tourist appeal and boost to Northgate Street, in conjunction with the very successful Storyhouse can offer a new era in Chester history for us all to enjoy. Fingers crossed.
Walking the Market for the last time the sadness of this now lost era was clear. Heres to the future!
The New Chester Market opens in November