'We can't wait to see Camden Market as it was': Traders on lockdown easing

Uliana Sulyhan at Basta - Falafel and Grill

Uliana Sulyhan at Basta - Falafel and Grill - Credit: Begum

For traders in Camden Market the past year has been a difficult one, but hopes are high for business to return as restrictions ease. 

If the government's roadmap continues as planned, all shops will be able to reopen on April 12.

The common thread for the market traders who shared their experiences was that “hope” prevails for better times ahead. 

Nikita Galcenco, 25, from the Colombian Street Food stall, said a lack of footfall has created a huge challenge, adding: "Sometimes we open for the whole day and sell nothing."

The business is careful about how much food it wastes, but he said: "You never know, some days it was a nice crowd of people and other days it’s not so. It’s always really unstable: deliveries are unstable, the schedule is unstable, everything.

"I feel supported, in a way, that they didn’t close the shops. We can still trade, that is the good side of the coin. It would be much worse if we shut down.

Nikita Galcenco at the Colombian Street Food stall at Camden Market

Nikita Galcenco at the Colombian Street Food stall at Camden Market - Credit: Begum

“Honestly, I hope and I am trying to visualise everything coming back to normal. Obviously there is going to be some restrictions, nothing is going to be the same since this pandemic.

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"I just hope, again hope, we are just going to be more normal. We did all these restrictions with the social distancing, the masks, I just hope we can find the best way for everyone to be safe, to be happy, to relax and being the social beings that we are, still going to the park, sharing food, sharing thoughts, sharing hugs."

Genoveva Rubio, 34, has worked at Camden Market for ten years selling Peruvian food at Quinoa Arepa, which is owned by her sister Maribel Rubio Canter.

“It has been very quiet," said Genoveva. "There wasn’t very much support. As you can see, there are so many shops even next door closed up. The high street as well - they close down.

"I was struggling a lot, because when not working I wasn’t getting income. I have been using my savings, which were running very low and it’s not just me, many people as well, they have been struggling a lot."

Genoveva Rubio at Camden Market's Quinoa Arepa

Genoveva Rubio at Camden Market's Quinoa Arepa - Credit: Begum

Uliana Sulyhan, 21, has been working in Camden Market at Basta - Falafel and Grill for more than two years and said: “We didn’t have so many customers as usual, but our regular customers are coming to eat with us and we are doing takeaway and delivery with Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

"Our team - we hope for the best, and we are waiting until the lockdown is going to be over, and our customers are supporting and coming to visit us as a small business.

"Especially [with] our food, we have a lot of customers from the Middle East and I feel that we have to support them too and provide them with the best food and service as possible, even now in lockdown when they can’t leave their houses, I am doing my best."

She continued: “Personally I am just waiting for the lockdown to be over because I can’t wait to see the old market as it was, the high street as it was, full of people, full of laughing, a lot of music, we are waiting for our customers to finally come and visit us, to share our thoughts and finally enjoy the world how it was." 

Basta - Falafel and Grill at Camden Market

Basta - Falafel and Grill at Camden Market - Credit: Fathayha Begum

Maggie Milosavljevi, commercial director at Camden Market's owner, LabTech, said: “Over the last year, LabTech has been engaging in an open dialogue with its tenants to discuss how they can best support them through the challenges brought on by Covid-19. To offer relief during this period, LabTech has operated continued rent reductions across all Camden sites for its tenants, including four months of full rent suspension between March and June 2020, and during February and March this year, coupled with significant rent reductions of up to 85% for the remaining periods.

“In addition, we’ve launched marketing initiatives to drive footfall to the sites and promote sales such as Camden Unlocked and the Camden Summer Screen. Alongside the launch of the 'ooooo' app which many traders have benefited from showcasing and selling their products live online.

“Throughout 2021 we will continue to support our tenants with a further £150,000 investment toward incentivised shopping discounts for consumers, along with a significant investment into digital marketing and social media, to drive customers and footfall as restrictions begin to ease.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Camden Council markets are a valued and important part of the borough’s community and we’ve been doing everything we can to support them throughout the pandemic. Camden has kept in regular communication with its traders, making sure they are kept up to date with the latest information, and receiving the right support during these challenging times.

“To assist Camden’s traders the council suspended all permanent licence charges. Traders selling permitted goods such as groceries and food were able to continue and given a temporary trading license, free of charge, in order to keep trading as well as those selling non-essential items via a click and collect service.

“We are carefully planning for the safe full re-opening of our markets following the easing of lockdown.”

Camden Market

Camden Market - Credit: Fathayha Begum