Cancelling Christmas fair 'nail in the coffin' for established market stall

Darren Old is trading for the last time on Bury St Edmunds market on Saturday, January 15

Darren Old is trading for the last time on Bury St Edmunds market on Saturday, January 15 - Credit: Darren's Cards

A market trader has said the loss of a Christmas fair that would pull in 130,000 visitors was the "nail in the coffin" for his stall.

Darren Old, will bring Darren's Cards to Bury St Edmunds market for the last time on Saturday, January 15, after running it for 20 years.

Mr Old, who until last year was chair of the National Market Traders' Federation branch in the town, said his main reason for leaving the market was the cancellation of the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

The start of Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in 2016

The start of Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in 2016 - Credit: Archant

Organised by West Suffolk Council, the award-winning event normally held over four days in November has not gone ahead for the past two years.

Mr Old said said his turnover was 50% down in November 2021 compared to November 2019 - the last time the fair was held - which he puts down to the loss of the festive event. 

West Suffolk Council said the fair could not go ahead due to issues around coronavirus, and smaller festive events were organised instead.

Mr Old, from Great Barton, said "nothing compensated for that [losing the fair]", adding the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre had also benefitted businesses in the surrounding area.

"I know for some businesses it's not going to be a huge loss, but I know for a fact there's businesses in Bury, particularly independents, who want that back.

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"It's the nail in the coffin for me," he said.

Darren Old is pictured with his Bury St Edmunds Calendar on Bury Market.

Darren Old is pictured with his Bury St Edmunds Calendar on Bury St Edmunds market in 2014 - Credit: Archant

Mr Old suggested the Christmas fair "is not coming back" and that Covid had been an excuse to axe the event.

But a West Suffolk Council spokesman said: "It is entirely wrong to suggest that any decision has been made with regard to Christmas events in Bury St Edmunds in 2022.

"We and our partners will be evaluating the success of the work that took place to put on a mix of events for Christmas 2021 and looking at our options.

"We are sorry that Mr Old feels the way he does but the pandemic meant that it would have been irresponsible to encourage 130,000 people into the town centre, especially at a time when so many other locations across the UK and Europe were cancelling their events due to rising Covid cases."

Darren Old, chairman of the Bury branch of the Market Traders Federation.

Darren Old, former chairman of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the National Market Traders' Federation. Pictured in 2013 - Credit: Archant

Mr Old is also calling time on his stall so he can spend more time with his family at weekends and he will now focus on his business looking after properties for letting agents. 

The 47-year-old, who comes from a family of market traders, said he had been working for his father Kenneth, known as Kenny, on his watch stall when the opportunity to have his own pitch came up.

"The person who had the card stall said 'I have had enough of this' and I said 'I will buy it off you'.

"He never went back on his word, I never went back on mine, and I bought the card stall from him."

The traditional Saturday market on the Cornhill and Buttermarket in Bury St Edmunds Picture: ARCHAN

The traditional Saturday market on the Cornhill and Buttermarket in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

Mr Old said turnover had been down 10% over the last eight or so years, while costs have gone up - another reason for closing.

Footfall has been decent, he said, but it's not all translating into sales.

He has also noticed a decline in the older generation coming to the market, especially on Saturday mornings.

"It just needs, hopefully, these people to come back and use the market again. Ten years ago we used to get 35-40 coaches visiting Bury on the Wednesday market day," Mr Old said.

But he still thinks the town is "punching above its weight" when compared to other markets.

Mr Old said he had had a huge response on social media after announcing his stall would be closing.

He said it had been "a good way of life".

"Twenty years is a long time and I have enjoyed really every minute. The cold has never bothered me.

"I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss my customers. I'm probably getting more and more people who come up and just want to have a chat."

West Suffolk Council is carrying out a markets review and says it has engaged with market traders to get their views.

Mr Old said while he had completed the survey, he felt there could have been more engagement.

Bury St Edmunds bi-weekly market runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. 




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