End of an era: City’s oldest stall to shut as moor market shoppers fall

Smiths' owner Paul Smith, who is quitting his stall in Sheffield's new Moor Market.
Smiths' owner Paul Smith, who is quitting his stall in Sheffield's new Moor Market.
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Sheffield’s oldest market stall is closing its shutters for good after 163 years – its owner says because of disappointing shopper numbers.

Handbag stall Smiths, which has traded since 1851, is one of a dozen retailers to quit the Moor Market since it opened six months ago.

Latest figures show the number of shoppers using the market stands at around 60,000 a week – short of the 100,000 expected.

Owner Paul Smith, whose great-grandfather started the family firm, said as few as nine customers a day now come to the new stall, and it is a struggle to make the £800 a month service charge. He told The Star: “We said we would give the new market a try – but the reason we think it hasn’t worked is there’s no real demand for markets now.

“The first week here footfall was okay, but since then it’s just gone down.

“We don’t get the customers we used to, few people have followed us here.

“We are currently in a rent free period but trade won’t even cover the service charge.

“Things have changed and we have got to move on.

“Everything we can sell is now on the high street or in a supermarket, when years ago there wasn’t anything like that. There is too much competition.”

Sheffield Council said it was carrying out a survey among traders, and working with Sheffield Business School to ask the public, about opening hours so ‘as many people as possible’ can shop there.

Some traders were also ‘prospering’, it added.

Smiths, opened by Noah Smith and known initially as N Smith and Sons, was one of the founding businesses in the Norfolk Market Hall in 1851.

Over the years it has sold various products and Paul grew up around the hustle and bustle of Castle Market before taking over from his dad Gerard 30 years ago.

Paul and wife Vicky, both 52 and of Whirlow, even met on the stall when she was employed by his parents.

Both said the Moor Market is quiet before 10.30am and after 2.30pm, and that different opening hours would not help.

Vicky, who has worked in markets for 36 years, said: “Retail has changed. There used to be customers four or five deep, it was buzzing and there was a lot of camaraderie.

“But back then there was no Tesco or anything, the market was all there was.

“Now there is too much retail and everybody is taking a little bit.”

Paul, who will now focus on his property and management lettings company, added: “I don’t think changing the opening hours is the answer, you have got to get the people in first.”

Smiths will close for the final time on Saturday, June 28.

The family said it would be a ‘sad’ day, and thanked customers.

Coun Leigh Bramall, council cabinet member for business, said three new traders had joined the market and three more had doubled the size of their stalls.

He added: “Inevitably in any market some businesses will do better than others. The Moor Market is no different and we know a number of traders are prospering.

“We will continue to support all traders and help them promote their businesses to the people of Sheffield.”