It seems that there is a lot going on in Gloucester that I find myself having mixed opinions on lately. The most recent is the news that TK Maxx once again appears to be heading for the city, but in doing so it is going to oust the Eastgate Market from its position in the Eastgate Shopping Centre.
This is something of a good news, bad news story, and it is stirring up considerable controversy.
Before I get onto my thoughts on the matter, let’s take a quick look at the history of the Eastgate Market.
Eastgate Market History
Gloucester’s market rights were derived from ancient custom rather than any specific charter, and it certainly had some market activities from at least the mid-thirteenth century. A History of the County of Gloucester gives extensive details of the early history of the city’s markets.
Originally the markets were held in the streets, but by the eighteenth century, as traffic increased, all of these market stalls cluttering up the streets became something of an inconvenience. To remedy the situation, in 1786 two dedicated markets were opened.
One of these markets was located on the west side of Southgate Street near the cross and housed dairy producers, fishmongers and earthenware sellers. The second market was built in Eastgate Street where M&S is today. This market was to house the market gardeners and sellers of meat, pigs, poultry and corn.
Both markets were rebuilt in 1856. It was at this time that the impressive portico entrance was added in Eastgate Street. The Southgate market had an even grander semicircular portico and became the Corn Exchange. It was demolished in 1938.
The Eastgate Market continued however, until the area was re-developed as part of the Jellico Plan. The original market location was redeveloped into a huge store occupied by Woolworths and now M&S, and the Eastgate Shopping centre was built to the east, with the original market portico moved to form the entrance. This opened in 1973.
The market itself was tucked away in the corner of the shopping centre, where it remains today.
<plug> For more information see The Story of Gloucester </plug>
Plans for TK Maxx
So we come to plans for TK Maxx. This isn’t the first time that we have heard that the store is coming to the city: not so long ago it was slated to move into the old M&S store in Northgate Street, but this fell through for reasons which are unclear.
Now the plans are that it will take up a ‘large unit’ at the Eastgate Shopping Centre and aims to be open before Christmas 2014. The indoor market will have to move to make way for it. It seems that this decision was taken without any consultation with the market traders.
City Council Leader Paul James has said that the council are ‘committed to maintaining an indoor market in Gloucester’ and the TK Maxx proposal will ‘depend on finding an acceptable new location’ for it. One suggestion has been to move the market upstairs in the shopping centre.
So, what are my mixed opinions on all of this?
Well, on the one hand I keep banging on about the need for big name stores in the city to encourage shoppers back into the centre and TK Maxx seems like a good contender for this and well suited for Gloucester shoppers.
Given that the store is likely to be popular, the location also makes sense. Assuming the existing rear entrance to the market stays open it will provide a good link from the new Greyfriars development into the centre.
On the other hand, the city also needs independent, unique offerings to maintain its individuality, and the indoor market is part of that. It would be a great shame if the market was to be killed off by this move.
However, the current indoor market looks very dated – it is a throwback to the 1970s when it was opened and it seems to have had little in the way of updating since. Paul James has said that the current building is in ‘fairly poor condition and will need significant and expensive repairs over the next year or so’. So maybe a move and a refresh could be a good thing all round.
So, how does the council manage the balance between securing an important new retail offering for the city and retaining the indoor market? I have a couple of suggestions.
Rather than move the indoor market upstairs, why not put TK Maxx there? Older people, who tend to be the mainstay of the indoor market, may struggle with the stairs, but people are more likely to make the trip for a big name store. We like to compare ourselves with Cheltenham, and TK Maxx is upstairs in their Regent Arcade and seems to suffer no adverse consequences.
The only problem that I see with this idea is that the area isn’t big enough, but by that logic it isn’t big enough for the market either.
My other suggestion is to reconsider the Northgate Street store. The reason that this deal fell through is unknown, but if it was due to renovation costs then maybe the council could provide some kind of sweetener to entice them in. The taxpayer would have to pick up the tab, so it may be controversial, but in the long term surely it would be a worthwhile investment. If it was rates that put them off, then the council should be ashamed of themselves and definitely do something to resolve that.
Alternatively, perhaps the market could move into the Northgate Street store. There is much concern about the markets heritage: ‘it has been there since the year dot’, but actually it has only been in its current location for 40 years (Citizen says 45, but not sure where that comes from), and has a history of moving. If a move enabled it to be updated and put it in a more prominent place on the high street surely it must be a win-win situation. It might be expensive though.
Whether TK Maxx or the market ended up in Northgate Street it would be a significant improvement over the current empty building.
So, in conclusion, let’s welcome TK Maxx with open arms, but also make sure that the market is well catered for (and preferably improved). Not an easy ask and the council has its work cut out – inevitably not everyone is going to be happy whatever the final solution is.