Last year, one of Liverpool’s and the UK’s oldest indoor markets, St Johns Market in the city centre, was given a major overhaul. I went to meet the new Market Manager, Colin McCrory, along with traders old and new in this contemporary retail environment.

St Johns indoor market is situated within St Johns Shopping Centre, in the heart of the city centre, just a short hop to Lime Street Station, Queen Square bus station and with plenty of nearby parking.

The market dates back to the early 19th century and last had any kind of refit in 1971. The £2m makeover by Liverpool City Council who recently bought back control of all the city’s markets in a controversial £1 deal, is part of a £3.5m upgrade within that area.

The 45 year old market was looking tired and dated and the new market, is a bright, spacious and contemporary trading area with a number of additional features. Situated on the second floor of the centre, it is accessible via a number of entrances and although I found it difficult to locate, Colin explained that additional new signage is being added within the centre.

A warm welcome is what the market aims to offer visitors and the entrance from the mall is bright and welcoming. An information desk has been introduced to the right of this entrance and is one of the new features. Alongside this area will be a kid’s zone which is due to open imminently and parents will be able to relax in massage chairs whilst their children are being entertained.

Renovation, of the site has allowed trading space to grow by a third from 90 to approximately 120 stalls. Part of the upstairs section, which also houses the new shopper toilets, will be home to the Council’s One Stop Shop, which will be relocated from the Municipal Buildings, adding further footfall to the venue. According to the organisation’s website, the One Stop Shops allow residents to access a range of council services under one roof, from Council Tax and Housing Benefit advice, to parking permits. Colin advised that a fashion retailer had expressed an interest in leasing twenty units.

The market was closed for six months during the refurbishment and the initial opening date was moved forward to November to enable traders to take advantage of the Christmas selling period. This has meant that some of the improvements are ongoing and Wi-Fi is expected to be installed, free to customers, shortly.

The large, central section has been planted with small trees with circular benches around their perimeter to create a pleasant environment for shoppers to rest, which has been further enhanced by a colourful pitched roof. This area is intended to be used as an events area and for pop-up speciality markets. An intensive programme of events has been introduced, with the first activities planned to coincide with Easter, all with the aim of increasing footfall and dwell time. Overall, there is sufficient seating throughout the market to accommodate up to 200 people.

Marketing activity is also ongoing and a new website and Facebook page has been developed to help promote the traders and increase consumer awareness. The market was officially opened by local comedian Sir Ken Dodd. The event was very well attended by the general public and supported by the media. Liverpool City Council Communications Manager, Michael Doran, told me that the market was very much a community focused environment.

Food Court

There is a large food court running along the full width of the market to one side. At the moment, this is served by one outlet, Kavanagh’s Kitchen which sells a variety of hot and cold snacks and meals. Ged James, the cafe’s owner has traded at the market since 1995 and said recently of the refurbishment, ‘It’s a huge improvement on the old market…we look forward to welcoming old and new customers to St Johns and to working with the new traders and making the market a vibrant retail destination in Liverpool.’

Cose Buone were busy getting their unit ready for opening. This Italian restaurant will be selling the ubiquitous pizza and pasta as well as a selection of gelato. Colin advised that a Brazilian and Portuguese restaurant had also signed up. This is great news for the market as there is competition from a large food court within the main shopping centre, but these tend to be fast food outlets and the market’s own food court is clearly a more restaurant style offering, though still in a relaxed and informal environment.

Food Hall

The dedicated food hall is easily located opposite the welcome desk and has a separate air conditioning system, making it ideal for fresh food traders. This was a consistently bustling area and was one of the first sections of the market to be fully operational.

The food hall is home to several butchers, a fishmonger, deli and organic produce. Of the four butchers in residence, M Schofield and son, Frank Livesey, the Irish Butcher and Chicken George, Chicken George is by far the largest and has one of the most impressive selection of offal I’ve seen outside of specialist butchery. I think I counted four different types of heart, along with tongue, chicken gizzards, tripe and almost every part of the pig except the squeak!

Manager George, who has been with the business for 48 years, told me that they have a large Chinese, Eastern European and African customer base who are less averse to eating things like pig’s stomach. He also told me that he even has customers who travel from London for his pork ribs.

It was the first day of trading for The Irish Butcher, which coincided with St Patrick’s Day the same weekend, perfectly. Bedecked with the Irish tricolour flag and the waft of samples of Irish sausage and white pudding emanating from behind their counter, the butchers were commanding a lot of attention. Owners Wendy and John have a shop in Dublin and explained that Liverpool was known as ‘The 33rd Irish County.’ They had done a lot of research before finally deciding on St Johns Market to sell their breakfast items of black and white pudding, bacon and sausages. Customers can buy them individually or as a small or large pack and they are actively promoting a lower fat ‘Slimmer’s choice’.

For the even more health conscious shopper, Feel Supreme can provide you with a selection of organic fruit and vegetables as well as some of their own range of organic products such as hemp oil and coconut oil. Owner Matt Murphy joined the market as a new trader when it reopened and this is his first time trading face to face, his business was just online prior. He had samples of fruit available to try and was promoting his box service, with some on display as examples. Although traditionally this is a quiet time of year for traders, he was pleased with the response that he had received from customers to the market.

Nellie of Nellie’s Plaice was very engaging. She has been selling wet fish for 23 years and had some interesting produce. A local delicacy is savoury cakes and despite looking like a battered fish cake, they contain no fish! I was surprised by the amount of salt cod for sale and immediately thought of bacalhau and our Portuguese friends. Nellie put me straight, telling me that it was a traditional Sunday breakfast in Liverpool. Another unusual sight was live winkles and Nellie informed me that she was only one of two markets in the city that sold them.

Completing the food hall line up is Parkes Deli. The unusual meat offerings of the butchers is replicated here in cooked form, with tripe, tongue and pig’s belly on offer. Like Nellie, he also sells savoury cakes and his selection includes salmon and cheese and onion varieties. Additional items include bread rolls and pies. Martin Parkes has been trading at St Johns’ for around seven years and rebranded to his name to coincide with the new look.

Central Market

The main market area is continually being filled with traders and the health and beauty area at the rear of the market was one of the first areas to be filled. There are two barbers, a beauty salon that specialises in brow and lash treatments and nail bar. At the end of this aisle is a dedicated area set aside as a multi-faith prayer room that is also available as a place of solitude for non-believers.

Although there are still a few vacancies, there is already a good selection of established traders at St Johns.

Kayani of Power Pack has been selling smoking accessories and electrical and fancy goods at St Johns for 36 years. He also offers a key cutting service and watch batteries and repairs. He was the first trader in and is pleased to see the market filling up. Tangos also sell electrical goods but specialise more in lighting.

There are a couple of retailers selling handbags and luggage, with one of them also selling greetings cards. They took a shop in the mall whilst the market was closed and this outlet is now closing so that they will now just trade from within the market.

Clothing is well catered for in the market, with items for women, men and children and when your clothes no longer fit, Hassan of Liverpool Stitches can make the necessary alterations for you. He told me he has a good, regular customer base, having been at St Johns for ten years.

Rocky’s dad started Bronx in the 80s, selling casual menswear. The business has expanded into children’s occasion wear (ideal for baptisms, confirmations and christenings) and school uniform. Rocky said the new trading area looks so much better and is cleaner and fresher.

Men’s sportswear and trainers are the speciality of Stush, and ladies’ clothing is well served by Musas Fashions. Amjad is the owner and has also been at St Johns since the early 1980s. He told me that he will be extending his range soon.

For children’s and babywear, Antonia Lousie Couture is the place to shop. She started on Widnes market selling handmade bows and introduced the clothing range when she relocated to St Johns when it reopened. She was very complimentary about the support that she had received from the management and other traders, saying that it was a very friendly place to work.

After kitting them out, customers can buy their children a toy from John Foley of Eggs Toys. Egg being a nickname that his children have given him. The toys are a new venture but John is an old pro when it comes to market trading, having previously sold jewellery before.

Accra and Faust Diamonds are an unusual addition to the market, selling high end branded watches such as Cartier and Rolex and bespoke diamond jewellery, such as a 12.5 carat diamond necklace which would retail on the High Street for £20k! This is owner Craig Drayton-Chambers’ first retail outlet.

For those with a less extensive budget, costume jewellery can be purchased from Special Effects who you have to walk through on entering the market. They also sell an extensive and colourful array of special occasion hats and fascinators.

There are a couple of mobile phone outlets and one of them is Fone Box that came to St Johns seventeen years ago. As well as the standard mobile phone repairs and accessories, they also repair laptops and gaming consoles.

Akhtar Khalil told me he has a loyal customer base for his rugs and bedding. He has been at St Johns’ for twenty years and looks forward to welcoming new traders to the market.

Pets are also well catered for and Mike Newton of Pets Parlour has been pampering to picky pooches for over thirty years. Rather worryingly, the quality of the treats available on the counter was such that I found myself thinking how tasty they looked!

Become a trader

Colin is keen to hear from traders offering a number of commodities (see the advert at the end of this feature) All units have lockable, shuttered fronts and slatwalls ready for shop fitting, with power and lighting installed.

He commented, ‘We want to attract new traders to the market to compliment the current traders and to increase footfall by attracting the old and new customers. There are lots of opportunities and what better time to help put St Johns Market back on the map.’

St Johns is a bright, clean, spacious and friendly working environment, something that is unfortunately becoming all too uncommon in the rather dated indoor market sector – so what are you waiting for?