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Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Thursday, 12 November 2009
Our love affair with the market
Shoppers at Leeds' German Christmas market
Shoppers at Leeds' German Christmas market

It's cold, it's wet and it may even be dark, yet in the run up to Christmas we flock to shop at small outside markets to buy those special pressies.

There are farmers markets, Christmas markets, and even a Victorian market being held at venues across Leeds

The Leeds Christkindelmarkt Christmas market opens on Friday November 13 with 40 stalls, promising handmade gifts and traditional German delicacies.

So when did markets become popular again?

Old-fashioned markets, selling fresh local produce saw a decline in popularity after World War Two. As supermarkets came to every high street, people grew used to purchasing their produce pre-weighed and pre-packaged. At the same time advances in worldwide transport meant consumers no longer had to worry about seasonality and were able to buy their favourite food at all times of the year.

Meanwhile, department stores were taking off. Leeds' first department store, John Lewis, was originally built in 1932 and brought indoor, interdepartmental shopping to Leeds with an impressive seven storey building. In 1996 Harvey Nichols' first store outside London opened, in the historic Victoria Quarter.

Headingley deli market
It's busy at Headingley deli market

Yet, within the last ten years, as smaller businesses have been squeezed out by larger multinational companies, transforming our high streets across the country, consumers have been arguing for an alternative form of commerce.

Backed up by television programmes several campaigns have taken root in the public consciousness. The real food and slow food movement which reject mass produced ready meals in favour of a return to traditional cooking using local fresh ingredients. While a protest against the homogenisation of our high streets, has helped pave the way for the return of the traditional marketplace.

Piggybacking on this renewed interest in handmade and locally made items, art and craft markets have enjoyed a similar revival.

Sausage stall
People like the taste the food at the market

Kirsten Miller, the Business Development Manager for Artsmix; providing sales and development platforms for artists, says it is an exciting time to be involved in the marketplace: "There has been a great rise in people attending our markets. I think people want to connect with the local community and economy having seen how the global economy hasn't been working that well.

"I think consumers want to support local people and local produce. Farmers markets have experienced this huge increase in growth because people want local and they want individual, not a mass produced product from China. It has enabled local artists to find their voice."

But, while bespoke markets have increased in popularity, Leeds' oldest and grandest market Kirkgate, has been struggling to attract shoppers. While food stallholders are reported to be doing okay, twelve other stallholders have just handed in their notice to leave.

Traders are angry at Leeds City Council and market managers who they say have been "dragging their feet" and "neglecting" the venue.

Leeds City Market
The spires of Leeds City Market

One trader who wanted to remain anonymous said he doesn't know how long he will hang on: "I think people do like to come here, but they [the management] have done almost nothing to attract them. It looks shabby, they need to focus on attracting new stallholders so it doesn't end up half empty. It usually gets busy around Christmas so we're keeping our fingers crossed."

But if the finger crossing doesn't work, it may be that a grassroots campaign is what is needed to ensure the survival of Kirkgate market. After all, if local people don't use it, they will lose it - a refrain familiar from up and down the country.


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