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Markets trade on atmosphere and bargains

EACH weekend across the metropolitan area, thousands of shoppers visit one of Perth’s many vibrant markets to enjoy a day filled with atmosphere, free entertainment and bargain hunting.

In the face of stiff competition from upmarket suburban shopping centres and the seven-day retailing in the city, Perth’s weekend markets have continued to draw crowds with their fresh produce and unique stores.

Midland Military Market manager Phil Astone attributed the popularity of weekend markets to their buzzing atmosphere and the relatively inexpensive product prices.

“The casual atmosphere means people don’t have to get dressed up to shop and the free entertainment also means people can come out to the markets and not spend anything, but still have a great time,” Mr Astone said.

“And I think markets are still popular because people are looking for a bargain.”

More than just a cheaper place to shop, some weekend markets have achieved the status of major tourism destination, such as the Fremantle Markets, which first opened in 1897.

Owner and manager Ron Murdoch said Perth’s oldest markets, which contained 170 stores, attracted up to three busloads of tourists each day it was open.

However, in recent years, favoured position of shopping centres meant markets had been forced to re-evaluate and upgrade their premises.

“Because we have competition from the shopping centres we have had to go upmarket, which means installing air conditioning, employ-ing security personnel and providing better parking facilities, and this wasn’t done in the past,” Mr Astone said.

For retailers, weekend markets often serve as a stepping stone between a home-based operation and a full retail outlet in a shopping centre, according to WA Retailers Association chief executive officer Martin Dempsey.

“Market stores provide an alternate entry point into the retail world for smaller retailers because obviously they are not as expensive to run as those in shopping centres and other retail precincts,” Mr Dempsey said.

“A lot of retailers have approached shopping centres and seen the amount of the rent they would be giving the centre and have then decided to set up in a market first, in a semi-professional atmosphere.

“Some wholesalers, too, who are unsatisfied with the prices retailers are giving them for their goods, have decided to move into markets and simply sell their produce themselves.”

Colin Nichol, manager of Subiaco Pavilion and Wanneroo Market, agreed that markets provided retailers with a solid base from which to move up and noted that the Kebab Company started its operations at Subiaco Pavilion.

“A number tenants had products which became so popular they moved into wholesaling,” Mr Nichol said.

Casual leases available in markets were another drawcard for retailers, allowing them to move their operations to different locations from one month to the next.

Mr Nichol said casual retailers rang the markets every week to secure a space.

And while between 80 and 90 per cent of the market tenants were regulars, the turnover of these retailers was very important in keeping markets interesting.

“That is another major difference between shopping centres and markets. Markets are not exactly the same from one week to the next, shoppers never know what they are going to find,” Mr Nichol said.

Mr Astone said markets were constantly changing, but they needed to, as otherwise they would become a shopping centre.

In any market, the most important stores were the fresh produce and food stores, Mr Astone and Mr Nichol agreed.

“The fresh produce stores are the most important to our markets and that includes obviously the fruit and vegetables but also the seafood stores and the bakery,” Mr Astone said.

“Also important are the art and craft stores, and the “new age” retailers, stores which sell items not found anywhere else.”

And while the colour and carnival atmosphere will always draw shoppers, Mr Nichol said the threat of deregulated trading hours was a worry.

“If trading hours are extended that will be our greatest challenge ever,” he said.

“I believe there will always be a place for a market, but the small population base would mean there would be a lot of damage done if everyone was allowed to open on Sundays.”

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