I AND latterly my son have traded at the general Wednesday and Saturday Cattle Market for over 30 years.
We have witnessed its more recent gradual decline at first hand. It is quite painful to see this ancient and familiar feature, still the commercial heartbeat of the city, in a parlous state.
Chichester’s Roman name was Noviomagus which translates to ‘the new market’.
In the 1860s the then expanding livestock and deadstock markets moved to the present site from East and North Street.
If it were now to close, an unbroken link would be severed. It is the geni loci, or spirit of place and its loss would alter the feel of the city.
That’s the sentimental bit over, we live in the here and now.
It’s much the same in most places (we go to lots of other markets) and there is serious competition from high street discounters and supermarkets.
As we know, the high streets too have been challenged. It’s good to see that Chichester’s main streets still have an atmosphere of vitality, let’s keep it that way.
Other centres have also successfully embraced the farmers’ market concept and Chichester, to the district council’s credit, has one of the best.
It benefits local producers and the increased footfall is welcomed by the stores.
There is recognition though that those wonderful old supply shops we used to love have all but gone.
Now we have the familiar chain store, and it can look the same wherever you go.
What makes the difference, according to the latest retailing strategy, is an active streetscape.
Local producers and markets provide the interest; a regular supply of good food, good value and that all-important direct contact with the public.
That’s what can draw shoppers away from the convenient but sterile out-of-town offer. Chichester’s streets have successfully made the call already. The Wednesday and Saturday market presents the opportunity to turn up the volume. Moving it into the city centre might be easier than it may seem.
When the farmers’ market lobbied for the same move many years ago, we were told it could never happen, and now look.
There’s a welcome waiting but the two market styles must remain absolutely distinct for it to work.
The general market traders are prepared for change and welcome a chance to move.
Chichester is not just any old trading platform, it’s very special. That understood, the high streets will not welcome them unless there is a seismic change in the look, the method and the circumstances of how they trade.
There will need to be some innovation, hatchet-wielding and strong co-operation to make it work.
The Chamber of Commerce and all with an interest in the high streets must be reassured and the district council needs to provide a new initiative with the will and the leadership to carry it through.
If the innovation is there too, there’s the chance to show everyone how it’s properly done.