So, who wants to buy Camden Market? World famous sites on our doorstep ‘up for sale'

Traders urge any prospective buyer to remember boho roots of NW1 success story

Thursday, 9th June — By Dan Carrier

camdenmarket Image 2022-06-09 at 11.45.36 PM (2)

Camden Market

IT was once the place to bag a bargain, a market where anyone with a fiver in their pocket had spending power.

This week, Camden Market’s humble origins may have seemed a long way in the past after reports emerged that the owner of the 16-acre traders’ empire has put it up for sale.

The asking price? Somewhere in the region of £1.5billion. An article in the Financial Times late last week said owner Teddy Sagi has decided to call time on his ownership after eight years – a report which New Journal sources have suggested is accurate.

His company Lab Tech said yesterday (Wednesday) it could not comment on the swirling speculation.

The Amy Winehouse statue and Sports Direct

Mr Sagi bought the Stables Market area in 2014 for £400m, from property managers Chelsfield and the restaurateur Richard Caring.

From here, the gambling tech billionaire went on to snap up the West and East Yard markets – where street food stalls now thrive amid the huge tourist demand – for £90m.

Other acquisitions included the Hawley Wharf, rebuilt after a fire into a complex of places to eat, offices and flats, and the Buck Street Market, were also brought under Lab Tech’s control.

The latter is now standing as container complex, again offering an array of lunch choices.

In the Stables, the arrival of the Sports Direct chain close to the statue of Amy Winehouse led to criticism that the site’s famed bohemian character was at risk. Visitor attractions have also moved in, including the Tomb Raider Live experience, which took the place of an indoor market area.

Future plans for the West Yard include building a giant Ferris wheel, while a three-story underground theme park is proposed for Hawley Wharf. The possibility of the site’s sale is not new. A brochure produced in 2019 called “Project Lock” stated rents brought in £72m a year and this was a one-off opportunity to own a famous landmark.

The Stables Market and, below, Hawley Wharf

This week, the New Journal asked some of the remaining traders what they would love to see happen next.

Jewellery maker Maia Nebula pays £1,000 a month for her stall in the Market Hall, a permanent pitch she has had for three years. Before that she worked as casual trader.

“I would like any new owner to stop desperately trying to appeal to people who essentially do not like markets,” she said. “They have done research to get people in, and the findings have prompted them to try to appeal to people who aren’t interested in markets, no matter what they had on offer, and that is to the detriment of Camden.”

Maia Nebula

She added: “The vast majority who come today aren’t here to buy anything – it’s just something on a tourists’ bucket list.

“A new owner must look at traders who bring in custom, not offer poorly thought out ‘attractions’ that further moves us away from what the core of this place has always been, and should be, about.”

The cost of pitches is a permanent bugbear for traders – and balancing an investment of more than £1bn while protecting rents will be a difficult juggling act for anyone who can afford to buy the markets.

The Buck Street container complex

Long-term Lock trader Barbara, who did not want to share her surname, has run the Village Games for 36 years. Her puzzles, dice and other board games are due to be packed up at the end of the month when the shop ceases trading after four decades. It’s departure marks the loss of a long-standing business.

She said: “It has changed so much and it is not for us any more. It has become so different since the Lara Croft and Peaky Blinders experiences came in. It means the end of little shops like us.

“When we started you could buy interesting things here, but places change. Lab Tech may be successful in what they are doing – but it is not for us.”

Stall worker Lafay Williams has served customers on numerous stalls over the past nine years. She said: “It has become way too commercialised and lost sight completely of its history, which is the key reason people come here in the first place.

“It is way too sanitised, way too clean. It used to be full of characters, and was edgy. Now it’s like Covent Garden.

“The new owner must remember why it was unique. They need to stop trying to make it something it isn’t. You used to come here if you were a bit of an oddball. You’d feel free to have crazy hair, wear whatever you wanted, and be yourself. Now, not so much.”

Dale Brooks

Dale Brooks has managed a vintage clothing arch for four years. He believes Lab Tech struggled to understand the market’s ethos.

He said: “The management like to splash money on things like Tomb Raider. They muck about putting in new things but not enhancing what works well. “The most important thing is the new owner speaks to the traders. Coming here used to be an amazing experience, a Mecca for rock and roll and the counter-culture. Now it is very diluted.”

The New Journal offered Lab Tech space to comment on the future of the market but said it would not be doing so at this time. The company has always defended its strategy for the market sites and says its choices have been made on market research.

When Sports Direct moved into the Stables, it said: “Whilst we are committed to supporting our core independent and local businesses, we are also open to diversifying our offering.”

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