'Killing the soul of Camden Market'? Traders react to planned £1.5bn sale

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Published: 3:03 PM June 21, 2022

Updated: 3:09 PM June 21, 2022

After confirming last week that Camden Market’s tech billionaire owner has put it up for sale, the Ham&High asked traders how optimistic they felt about its future.

“I don’t know if I’ll be here by Christmas,” says Mark*.

He has traded on Camden Market for over a decade but, he says, “business is nearly dead”.

His rent has doubled in recent years, he claims. Many colleagues are already gone, replaced by sport shops, restaurants and a Tomb Raider attraction.

“It’s turning into a shopping centre,” he says. “It’s killing the market.”

Since it emerged that the market’s owner, Teddy Sagi, has put it on sale for £1.5 billion, Mark worries that the buyer will hike rents.

So does Ricky Singh, of Camberry London clothing.

“That’s the biggest worry for all the traders,” he says. “Everyone is complaining that the business is not there… Mine is down 60%.”

Ricky fears that as the cost-of-living crisis forces up prices, trade will fall further.

His online sales are down too, he says, as international customers now face heavy import duties due to Brexit.

“It worries me a lot,” he says. “A lot of shops are closing down.”

A source said last week that Mr Sagi had “great faith” in Camden, but traders are split.

Jeweller Djounejt Sijdau said business was better than ever and he was ‘very happy’ with the current ownership and management – Credit: Charles Thomson

Jeweller Djounejt Sijdau says business is better than ever.

He is “very happy” with Mr Sagi and his company LabTech.

“They are always understanding,” he says. “If you have any problems, they are always helpful.”

His only worry is that the new owner won’t be as good.

Javid Nazari, at the Mad Hatter shop, agrees.

“There’s new electricity, new signage, more social media and more customers,” he says, adding that trade is back to pre-Covid levels.

“They have done all nice things. I hope the new owners will be even more nice.”

Most traders agree that LabTech has done nice things.

When the market reopened after lockdown, it only charged 20% rent, gradually rising as footfall returned. It is still not charging 100%.

Javid Nazari, manager of the Mad Hatter shop, said he was impressed by LabTech’s improvements to Camden Market – Credit: Charles Thomson

LabTech also donated accommodation to NHS staff during lockdown, says Greg Duke, from homeware shop Araucaria.

But, he adds, there has been a “sea change” since Mr Sagi began taking over the market.

“People come down to eat and drink, for relaxation, hanging out, rather than for retail,” he says.

“Now they are exacerbating that with things like the Lara Croft experience, the Babylon experience, the Peaky Blinders experience.

“If people come for the experience, I think that further eats away at the retail.”

Some traders felt attractions like the Tomb Raider and Peaky Blinders experiences were having a detrimental impact on the market’s more traditional businesses – Credit: Charles Thomson

Maggie Milosavljevic, LabTech’s commercial director, says all changes are “in response to changing consumer needs and behaviour”.

“Some of the things we have added have been to attract tourists back, but we are also working hard to increase Camden Market’s appeal to residents and Londoners more widely too,” she says.

But, says one trader, asking not to be named: “All this money and investment is actually kind of killing the soul of this market.”

Footfall is high, they say, but trade is poor.

“Mostly people now come here to eat, drink and go. All the shops are slowly changing to commercial stuff… You can count five or six shops selling the same thing.”

Trade is “rubbish” agrees a nearby clothes seller, who sometimes has “zero customers in a day”.

“In the past you at least knew Saturday and Sunday would be good days,” they say. “Now, you can’t say.”

Some traders described business as ‘dead’ and ‘rubbish’, with one sometimes going entire days without a single customer – Credit: Charles Thomson

Lafay Williams, who has worked on the market for nine years, feels it has become “boring”.

She hopes the next owner will be “an eccentric English billionaire” with “a passion and love for English history and diversity”.

“Before, you would come here to explore who you were,” she says. “Maybe you were into alternative lifestyles and you would come to the market to explore that and understand that it’s okay to be you.

“Camden Market was somewhere that you could be free to have pink hair and dress however you wanted – whereas now I feel it’s a bit generic. It’s a bit like just going down the West End.”

Lafay Williams, who has worked on the market for nine years, feels it has become ‘boring’ and lost its counter-culture identity – Credit: Charles Thomson

“We value feedback and everyone’s opinion matters, but Camden Market is home to 650 independent businesses and we enjoy a close working relationship with the vast majority,” says Ms Milosavljevic.

The market has helped over a dozen businesses expand into larger premises in the past year, she adds, and independent research this year found most people rated Camden Market more highly than its peer destinations in London.

“Everything we have done celebrates Camden’s unique heritage and the area’s ethos of evolution and influence,” she says.

*Mark’s name was changed.