Barber told to leave Stables Market after 23 years refuses to go
Identity crisis? Battle lines drawn over future of iconic Camden Town site
16 February, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Carlos Gomez at Pepi’s
A BARBER who has cut hair in his Stables Market shop for 23 years says he is refusing to leave after being given an eviction notice by the landlords of the world-famous site in Camden Town.
Carlos Gomez said his shop is the victim of a drive to make the market complex in Camden Town “quieter and posher”.
He said: “The new owners are taking it in another direction.”
The hairdresser’s fight to stay comes with opinion divided over the future of the Stables Market and an overhaul headed by Lab Tech, a company looking to put its own stamp on a site which retains its status as one of London’s most popular shopping destinations for tourists.
Now in the hands of tech billionaire Teddy Sagi, who also owns land around Camden Lock and the Hawley Wharf development, long-time traders at the Stables fear the quirky, bohemian nature is being lost – the very essence of what makes it such an attraction.
Last week, it was revealed that the famous Proud Gallery and nightclub was moving out, while Gilgamesh, another longstanding business, closed in January. Elsewhere, the long-term future of day-glo rave outfitters Cyberdog has also been cast into doubt. They have traded at the markets for nearly 25 years but the firm could not confirm whether they are definitely staying in their large, flagship Stables Market store.
Mr Gomez’s salon, Pepi’s, could be closing as soon as next week after he was told this month he was being given a fortnight’s notice to leave.
He has decided to fight the decision, and believes he has the law on his side. “Many of us on existing leases are better protected. But some have been pressured into signing new deals, moved into new shops or closed completely,” he said.
Mr Gomez said he believes Lab Tech are determined to change the markets to suit a vision which he feels does not respect what made it famous. Mr Sagi’s company acquired the site for £400million in 2014.
Mr Gomez added: “It feels like we do not fit in with the new Camden they have in mind. But our shop has in the past been used as a publicity tool to attract custom. I have cut the hair of everyone from famous singers to people who live round here. It is clear Camden Market is having an identity crisis.”
He said that the previous owner, Bebo Kobo, had encouraged Camden Market as a tourist destination – but treated traders well.
“The new owners have taken it into another direction,” said Mr Gomez. “There are new flats coming in at Morrisons and Hawley and it feels like they want the place to be gentrified. “They want it to be quieter and posher. They are not respecting what makes it special. They want to make it like Covent Garden with big flagship stores. They are trying to create something that will not work. They are kicking out people who are making good things and are vital to its future success.”
Mr Gomez said he has taken legal advice and believes that, as long as he pays his rent on time, the landlords will not be able to force him to leave.
He said: “I am going to stay and fight. Someone has to do it. Someone has to take a stand. People have been leaving one by one but I will face them. I want it to be my decision when I leave.”
Similar stories have been told by other long-established traders who recall being involved when the markets first started in the early 1970s in the area known as East and West Yard. They remember craftsman studios with stalls in front and how its success made it a mecca for British fashion, with designer Wayne Hemingway’s Red or Dead empire starting out in nearby Buck Street, and scores of other entrepreneurs getting their first break there.
Custom Leather, which has been in West Yard making its own products for more than two decades, has also decided to close this year, stating the introduction of food stalls on their doorstep has hit trade so badly they do not believe their small workshop is still viable.
Some were reluctant to be named, but shared their fears.
One said: “It is spreading cold corporatism and we risk losing what makes us special. It has been ruthless, getting rid of stalls they don’t think fit their ideas.”
But opinion is divided in some quarters. Other stallholders in the Stables who have spoken to the New Journal say a new level of professionalism from the management is flushing out poorly run stalls and making the area a better experience for visitors.
One clothes shop owner said: “It is not all doom and gloom. They have done positive things. Frankly, they run businesses well. Some stalls have been moved out and we heard it was because they were doing things cash in hand, sub-letting space. That seems fair enough. It is a case of wait and see.”
The news that Alex Proud, owner of the Proud Gallery, could not secure new terms on a lease sent shockwaves through the cobbled quarter, however. Mr Proud said he “would have done anything to stay” but his offer to double the rent he pays was not accepted. Instead, he was told his venue was considered “too tired” for the Stables amid a search for new blood.
Lab Tech told the New Journal that they take their role as custodians of the historic market seriously.
A spokesman said: “We have not in recent times seen a higher than usual turnover of traders and have not forced anyone out. We have made a significant investment and are here for the long term. We are committed to maintaining and building on Camden’s rich heritage to develop a vibrant and creative atmosphere, a place for independents, start-ups and businesses.
‘Locals avoid coming here,’ says new market boss
THE new boss overseeing Camden Markets for Lab Tech is Chen Moravsky.
He joined at the turn of the year, having previously worked in Amsterdam, and told the New Journal he has spoken to traders and is drawing up plans to build on its heritage.
Mr Moravsky said his brief was to revitalise the Stables and Lock Markets, shifting its focus from day-trippers and sightseers, and respond to longstanding concerns over anti-social behaviour and what is sold.
He said: “We see Camden Market as having had a limited offering, focusing on tourists needs. It went too far towards stalls selling T-shirts, souvenirs and food. We want to change this. It will always be a tourist attraction but we have a community and we need content they want.”
He added: “Locals, in general, avoid coming here right now – not because they want to, but because they feel there is nothing here for them. “The plan is to change the mix and create a better experience.”
Mr Moravsky said traders had to accept there would be changes.
“There are some quick fixes but also medium and long-term investment needed. We need to improve security, maintenance and cleaning,” he said. “The market also needs to be dynamic, to evolve. Our vision is to keep the character and charm but try and bring back what the market was originally known for – music, arts, crafts, antiques, fashion, design. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions. People will moan and say we are kicking out some stalls but that is part of a process. We are not trying to squeeze a lemon dry.”
Life living next to Camden market
LIVING with the UK’s biggest market on your doorstep offers unrivalled chances to buy a range of things – but also creates problems, according to residents.For many, watching the changes over the years has caused concern over crowds, litter, anti-social behaviour – and the lack of stalls that attract their business.
Patricia Thomas, chairwoman of the Hartland, Harmood and Clarence Way Tenants and Residents Association, said longstanding issues over late licences, noise and litter were high on the list of priorities for people whose homes neighbour the markets.
She said: “Over the years, the owners have tried to be friendlier towards the residents but it is hard to convince many they are being serious when they ask for late licences for venues. Things have got better – in the last 18 months they have begun to speak to us. The noise has been an issue – people have had to install expensive double glazing, sleep in rooms at the back of their homes.”
Ms Thomas added that residents wanted to use the markets.
She said: “In the Stables, a lot of stalls have been converted into cafés, and residents are as likely to go for a coffee as anyone else. If they could go back to more crafts and workshops instead of endless T-shirts, that would be lovely. There are places like Black Gull Bookshop and Roger Stone the jeweller who have been in place for a long time and are very good. If you have stalls selling products, it would be good to ensure the people making them are working here too.”
Stefanie Grant, who lives in Harmood Street, told the New Journal she hoped established traders would be protected as they represented what made Camden Market attractive.
She said: “Aside from whether what the management is doing is proper, it shows that it sees shops – leather, carpets, and books – as no different from the food businesses which dominate. They are good and needed shops, as well as being survivors from the old Camden Market, which represent its traditional character.”
Mark Baker, who also lives nearby, said that by attracting tourists, neighbours felt there was little catering for others and that the effect of litter was unbearable.
He added: “Camden is plagued by identikit tourist tat shops, all the mugs and key-rings. The locals get no value whatsoever out of any of it. The food offering has improved in the last two years, so now it’s time to sweep away all the cheap things and bring in interesting stuff – a great food market, interesting, quality art, homeware, and clothing.”