Market traders in West Brom say 'we've been trying to get rid of the smell for 15 years'

Dave Griffiths of Dave's Pets in West Bromwich Indoor Market
-Credit: (Image: LDRS)

Traders from a neglected Black Country market say they remain hopeful for the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ after a planned move to a new location has been hampered by delays. West Bromwich’s indoor market in the Kings Square Shopping Centre saw its best days a long time ago and the remaining traders are struggling to find customers in a building long past its sell-by date.

Sandwell Council is working on a new location for the market – with a spot on West Bromwich High Street earmarked – but progress has been slow and hampered by delays. The market is home to a handful of traders, who sell clothes, cosmetics, jewellery, pet supplies and African and Caribbean clothes and food, and say the council’s recent rent cut has gone some way in helping but has nevertheless come far too late.

One trader, who chose to stay nameless, said she was regularly counting the number of paying customers on one hand when totting up the day’s trade. "Some days are better than others,” she said. “But a lot of the time it’s a struggle. There’s no footfall around here so we don’t get much passing trade and we have to rely on a few regulars who know we are here.”

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She was relying on regular customers to survive and battles with the council over improving the market and the delayed relocation had left her patience at its thinnest. “We’ve been trying to get rid of the smell for 15 years,” she said about the fishy stench that hangs over the market – a smell that would put off the most ardent of regulars let alone passers-by.

The struggle for trade and a reliance on regulars, as well as theories on the decrepit state of the building, were common themes among the traders I spoke to. But while some credit Sandwell Council for finally listening to the desperate pleas of market traders and cutting rent, the praise comes bound by the frustration that the assistance took far too long.

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Dave Griffiths, who has run Dave’s Pets from the market for 33 years, was one trader to give some credit to Sandwell Council for its recent interventions but said the many, and ongoing, issues facing the indoor market should not have been allowed to drag on for so long. Mr Griffiths helped spearhead the campaign for much-needed investment in West Bromwich’s indoor market and remains hopeful the new location will help boost trade.

He said many of the traders were “hanging on” and it would be a battle to survive before the move. “It doesn’t help that the building is really old and on its way out basically,” he said. “We are going to a new building. It’s took a while, it’s been delayed but we’re getting there.

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“I’ve been quite critical of the council, which they have deserved up until recently, but they have helped us. They’ve put the rent down which is what we needed. They finally listed and that is a big help. They sat down and listened to us, eventually, and that has made a big difference. It’s a double whammy with us. There’s not the footfall but also the place is so old and there’s nothing really here to attract people. There’s a reason they’ve done what they’ve done and that’s because they let it go over the edge.

“It’s all that we are hanging on for really,” Dave said. “There’s a lot to be positive about, it will be modern, it will be nice. Looking forward, it’s good, but at the moment, we’re really going to have to hang on. The council have helped us out, to give them some credit, but they shouldn’t have let it go over the cliff in the first place.

“At the minute it’s hard but we know there’s light at the end of the tunnel I suppose. We’ve got to try and survive.” Across from Dave’s Pets sits Terry, who has traded on the market for more than 50 years.

Dave and Terry both said the decaying indoor market proved unattractive to any potential customers and they were relying on regulars to pick up the trade.

Terry Petty, who has sold cosmetics and perfume from his Petty and Coles stall for more than half a century, has witnessed the rise and fall of the market first-hand and felt the problems faced in West Bromwich were no different to those across the rest of the country. He remains hopeful that a new location for the market will eventually see trade pick up – but the move is still months away and traders are already struggling.

Mr Petty told me that with every penny counting during the cost of living crisis, it was more difficult for people to afford to live – let alone buy luxuries at cheaper prices. “It’s very tough at the moment, footfall is very bad,” he said. “We tend to think it’s just us but I think it’s the country generally. People are struggling because of the prices. It’s very expensive to live at the moment.

“Without the regulars coming here, it would be very hard to survive these days. Anybody starting off at the moment, it would be very difficult. Hopefully it will improve [when we move.] It’s amazing that people still don’t know we are here,” he added. “After all this time, it’s crazy really.”

Sandwell Council did not respond to a request for comment.