Traders in Preston’s award-winning Market Hall are complaining of an all-time low in customer footfall.
It comes as two stalls stopped trading from the glass hall in quick succession, ending their contracts with Preston City Council.
Business owners have blamed the cold for declining customer numbers but also say the closure of the old market hall car park has hit footfall even further.
This, coupled with higher rent, has led one trader to say the stalls were better off in the old market while another says she has had to give customers their money back.
Traders, fed up and struggling with low morale, say their concerns have been met with silence from the city authority and are due to meet today to decide their next steps.
Julie Fausset who owns Brew + Bake cafe said: “It’s so cold. I’m right at the very front and it has affected my trade immensely.
“I have really struggled. The council had an extra door put on and it’s helped a bit but this week it’s just been bitter.
“I have had to give people their money back. They say ‘I’m so sorry I’m too cold I can’t sit here’.”
Not long after the new Market Hall opened in February 2018 traders began to complain of the chill in the glass hall, nicknaming it ‘The Ice Cube’. Over Christmas, the city council forked out to add a porch onto the Market Hall in an effort to create a buffer but traders say it only went some way to stem the draught.
Now the council has also closed the old market car park for demolition, traders say they have been hit again with a fall in custom.
Julie said: “It’s directing everybody down to Fishergate. Footfall is really not very good. The council has said that footfall is good but people us it as a cut through to go to the bus station.
“They need to look at a footfall count for how many people are stopping to shop.
“Now that the car park is closed people won’t carry their shopping miles so people go to the supermarkets where there is free parking.
“Morale is very low with traders. We are all cold and fed up and it kind of rubs off on our customers.
“The building is amazing – they just need to make it warm.
“The rent is really high I think we are having to pay quite a high rent for basically what is an outdoor market.
“It’s a very challenging time for traders at the moment to make a living. There’s building work that’s going on. There’s so much activity going on its had a negative effect on us.”
In recent weeks both Caribbean food stall World Foods and Clarke and Son butchers have ceased trading from the Market Hall.
In March, Pizza Box and Crunchy Crutons also closed their shutters at the space.
Nikki Keese, owner of Pickles of Preston, has been trading from Preston Markets for 50 years and warned time is running out to stop more stall holders leaving.
She said: “We are all struggling with this high rent and we have lost the car park now which has affected us.
“We have had several meetings with the council and they are just not interested. We keep saying if you carry on it’s going to be empty.
“In the winter it’s very quiet so nobody will come in here in January, February or March. It’s been a lot quieter and rent has actually doubled so I was better off in the old market.
“I’m just working to pay the rent so I’m working for nothing. All the public are on our side. They feel sorry for us having to work in the cold and having to pay for heaters which are just useless. The electric bill has doubled as well.
“It’s got a lot quieter because we used to get the footfall from the car park. Now people are parking elsewhere. The council promised us it was going to be amazing and it’s worse. I’m doing less but with double rent.
“We need help to get through the next two or three years. By the time the new cinema complex is up and running we are just going to be gone.”
In a post online The Orchard, a craft ale bar, Tweeted: “If the council had set lower rents for the first three years while we are having to put up with a building site on our door steps giving traders, old and new, time and a chance to make a go of things it would be different.
“That end of town is a building site. We fall on deaf ears.”
Hazel Bean, owner at Sugar Rush, is in agreement.
She said: “I feel like a lot needs to be looked at by the council to make it much more accessible and more comfortable for the customer which would increase footfall.”
Arthur Strand, of the cooked meat stall, is calling for the council to reduce rent as a starting point.
“The rent’s too high - about two or three times what we were paying before,” he said. “The general public won’t come in. There needs to be more variety of stalls.
“Reduce the rent first and foremost and try and invite new traders in. It’s up to the council to search for these people.”