York traders are in open revolt against a city centre strategy which is ‘killing’ their businesses.

Their anger came to a head after the four-day International Market on Parliament Street saw takings plummet for shopkeepers, cafés and Shambles Market stallholders.

That external market, and others like it, are “crippling weekends” and sabotaging the ability of year-round businesses to earn a living, many have told YorkMix.

For its part Make It York, which puts on these extra retailing events, acknowledged that aspects of the International Market were disappointing, and that the organiser failed to honour agreed rules. It has promised a review, and says it is unlikely this market will be back next year.

Businesses will want to see action. As Adam Scott, of The Shambles Sweet Shop put it: “Traders are fuming. Everybody I’ve spoken to is angry as hell.”

The shopkeeper

The Shambles Sweet Shop
Adam Scott has run the Shambles Sweet Shop for three years.

During the period of the International Market (9-12 May) his business was hit hard.

“Across the board, I was down 30-40%. Speaking to other traders they had the same – especially food traders, they got absolutely hammered by it.”

Adam told YorkMix:

  • There was no greater footfall because of it – town was quiet-ish. But the people who were here were sent to Parliament Street where all the hubbub was.

    To say it’s bringing people in, is nonsense. Basically it’s a money grab. Simple as.

    It’s crippling weekends for us. It’s taking whole weekends away from us, until we’ve got nothing left. It’s pretty terrible.

    There’s that many businesses closing, I just do not understand what Make It York are thinking about.


He said the International Market stalls were selling produce that was in direct competition to local traders – including British sweets.

“it wasn’t international. It was all British stuff. It was pies, sweets – it was any old tat they could get money out of.”

He had this message for Make It York: “We’re very angry. You’re not representing us, you’re representing yourselves.

“You’re making money for your own organisation, it doesn’t feed back into the council’s budget, and you’re bleeding the city dry.”

The café owner

Howard Proctor in the Earl Grey Tea Rooms. Photograph: YorkMix
Howard Proctor runs the Earl Grey Tea Rooms on Shambles.

On the Saturday of the International Market, his takings were 80% down on the week before.

“It doesn’t do the full-time, permanent shops and traders in York any favours,” he said.

“All the while the council are increasing our rents, and they don’t seem to care. We want your rent, but we’re going to take some of your trade away by putting this market on.

“There’s no forward thinking. It’s almost a case of, let’s get this money in now, however we do it, and we’ll sort out the problems in the future.”

He feared for the future:

  • Businesses will close. Definitely, I’m sure they will.

    People won’t be able to sustain the rents they’re being asked for because when they put things like that on Parliament Street, trade is getting very thin.

Shambles Market traders

Shambles Market. Photograph: YorkMix
A number of stallholders from Shambles Market contacted YorkMix to explain the impact of the Parliament Street markets on their trade.

Kevin Tuohy, Bags of Style, chairman of Shambles Market Traders Business Improvement Group
We have been in consultations with Make It York back in October 2018 regarding the conflicting markets issues. Indeed they seemed to listen to our pleas and actually invited us to actively contribute to proposed changes to such as the International festival in the future.

Unfortunately we have not heard anything back from them on this and things seem to be continuing like last year. Therefore the detrimental effect on most of the market traders is happening again as the bulk of the customers on Parliament Street don’t have a disposable income.

What is also worrying is that the money spent by tourists on the visiting conflicting fairs does not go into local traders pockets or the local economy on the whole. Therefore the revenue generated is not largely ploughed back into the city. Instead it goes elsewhere.

My evidence? Just look at our flagship street which is Coney Street and the amount of empty units there. This certainly does not help York in the long term.

John Mannion, third generation market trader
The market traders had an agreement with the council, who said that they wouldn’t put so many markets out there. But then they passed it over to Make It York, who have gone back – not on their word, on the council’s word.

If the market is complaining, it’s just a microcosm of the rest of the city centre trading community.

How fair is it if there’s one guy in here selling fudge, and five guys out there selling it? What chance has the fellow in here got?

There ought to be a moratorium to allow a fresh think about the trading in York. It’s gone so badly wrong for York traders.

The stalls as seen from the Market Cat pub
Nick Roberts, Crystals And Fossils stall
The International Market absolutely killed everybody. It’s not just the food traders it affects, it affects every trader in Shambles Market.

People come in, walk up and down Parliament Street, eat the food, spend all their money – and they don’t spend it anywhere else.

My stall’s an extremely busy stall. On Saturday I spent 80% of the time sat down. And that never happens.

Andrew Kenny, Cross of York fish stall
We were given the impression at previous market meetings at West Offices that the retail events on Parliament Street were going to be scaled back – because it had been recognised that they were having a detrimental effect on the city.

This needs to be looked at again. These alternate markets are not a helpful thing.

Just because we’ve got another market on it doesn’t mean there’s more money to go round. It just means the amount of money available to spend is diluted further.

St Nicholas Fair started out as a long weekend. Now the fair has been extended to six weeks. What we found last year, and the year before, was that local shoppers were avoiding the city centre and shopping elsewhere.

Make It York’s response

Card image cap

The International Market has been coming to York for many years.

In the first couple of years since Make It York was formed (ie post May 2015) we did not accept its application to come to the city as the key priority was growing Shambles Market and establishing a strong and loyal customer base for York’s daily market.

During this time we project managed a refurbishment of Shambles Market and set about creating a strategy to grow the market, which is now one of the most successful daily markets in the country.

In 2018 we decided to trial hosting the International Market again and it proved popular with residents and visitors so we agreed to host the market again this year. York International market was held for four days organised by Market Place Europe and hosted in the city by Make It York.

The international market has been popular with visitors and residents offering a variety of foods from different countries such as churros and meats from Spain, Greek olives, Jamaican jerk chicken, French patisserie and a variety of plants and bulbs from Holland.

Whilst planning with the operator, Market Place Europe, we stated that the International Market should include products/produce that were not obviously in York whilst accepting that some duplication would be inevitable.

The International Market was popular this year and included some high quality independent traders, however, we agree that some of the content was disappointing and whilst the majority of traders were international there were some who were not. The organiser did not adhere to what was agreed (what actually happened was the organiser filled any empty spaces to local traders).

Both Shambles Market and the International Market were busy and this year the organiser of the market ran a competition on Facebook to win £1,000 (20 x £50 vouchers supplied by the organiser) to spend in Shambles Market over the four days too, to help drive footfall to York’s daily market traders.

One further market is planned this year – this is a Young Trader Market – and this will host the regional final of the National Young Traders Market competition which will feature 40 young traders from around Yorkshire on August 1st, Yorkshire Day.

This was held last year in Leeds and we believe is a coup for York. It features only young traders; the entrepreneurs of the future.

It is unlikely we will host the International Market by Market Place Europe again next year. We do not have a policy of bringing markets per se to York. Our priority is animating the city centre and bringing a variety of different events to York.

The market was promoted through all our usual marketing channels, online, in customer e-newsletters (7 Days in York), through social media, etc

Some retailers may have been impacted by bad weather/cold spell.

Any income generated by use of city centre space is put back into projects that benefit the city. We re-invest the money, for example in improvements such as the Food Court seating, parasols and developing a new Love Your Local campaign.

Continuous improvements are being made. By bringing the new young traders market to York, for example, and hosting the Yorkshire Regional final of this national competition, we are supporting young talent.

Chris Price, head of the city centre and markets, said:

  • Part of our role is to bring new events and festivities into the city centre which can be enjoyed by residents and visitors. Feedback on the International Market from customers has been very positive and there were some high quality independent traders there.

    These kinds of events offer a new reason to visit the city centre and can help drive footfall to other retailers. However, we do need to find the right balance. We will review how the event went, taking on board all of the feedback.

    Make It York is mindful of ensuring we help to create the very best atmosphere in the city to help retailers thrive. We moved the date of the Ice Trail from Christmas to February, for example, specifically to bring trade to York and to retailers at a quieter time of year, and this was a great success for businesses.

    What we will be focusing on now and in the future is attracting new and different kinds of events to the city.