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Sports Direct moves into historic Camden Market site

Indepedent traders warn market's bohemian soul is at risk

26 September, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

The chain’s new anchor store

PILE-’EM-HIGH sportswear shop Sports Direct is moving into the heart of Camden Town’s famous markets, sparking a new debate over whether the iconic site is at risk of losing its famous bohemian character.

The high street chain, owned by billionaire businessman Mike Ashley, is opening a “concept” store in the refurbished Stables Market.

The site’s owner, LabTech, had previously said it would maintain the market’s tradition of being a launchpad for unique brands and independent fashion firms.

LabTech insist an “anchor” store will help smaller traders by bringing in a greater volume of shoppers, including people who live nearby.

But long-serving stallholders say it clashes with the spirit of Camden’s market, which is one of London’s most visited spots due to its promise of alternative shopping.

Sports Direct move into the Stables Market

Kleo Kleanthous, who ran a record and tape stall for two decades, told the New Journal that the arrival of Sports Direct could be the “final nail in the coffin” for the market’s reputation.

He said: “They may as well gut the whole lot and open a Primark, chuck all the food vendors out and build massive Maccy D’s and KFC. Having Sports Direct in the Stables shows that, for all of the talk from its owners about supporting people starting out in business, about respecting the soul of Camden Town, about it being cutting edge, ­independent, having a conscience, is just nothing but spin.”

He added: “I remember when it was about the amazing independents, bookshops like Compendium, stores like Rhythm Records. It was full of young fashion designers who would work all week in little factories in east London [and] come down wide-eyed at the ­weekends to sell their creations. Camden Town is a market that offers something new, different. It’s very reason for being there has gone. “It’s just another flat-packed high street with no soul.”

Mr Kleanthous’ views were echoed by others, although some were wary of having their names in print due to fear of recriminations.

Carlos Gomez ran a hairdressers in the Stables for nearly 25 years until he was asked to move out in 2018.

He staged a protest ­ sit-in at his salon when LabTech bosses gave him notice, leading to a tense stand-off as Mr Gomez slept in his shop so they could not claim possession.

He warned at the time that the longer-term traders who had helped create the Camden vibe were being forced out by higher rents and changing management practises.

Mr Gomez, who now works in Sevens Sisters, said: “I have been ­expecting this so I am not surprised. “We knew it was going to become just like any other high street. That is what they want to turn it into. There are hardly any of original people who made Camden what it is left, and that is such a shame. It feels like it is about the big brands now.”

LabTech bought The Stables in 2014 and acquired other market sites including Buck Street and Hawley Wharf, which are also being redeveloped. More supportive traders said that LabTech had invested vast sums to improve anti-social behaviour and mess.

“If a Sports Direct brings in footfall, I don’t mind,” said one trader. “And it will only make my shop look better.”

LabTech say they offered the unit, which had been a store offering clothing for £5, to Sports Direct because of the results of market research.

They added research last year found that after speaking to 1,000 people who live locally, they would welcome more high street brands in the markets.

A LabTech ­spokes­person said: “Camden Market is a continually evolving destination and is hugely popular for both tourists and locals alike. Whilst we are committed to supporting our core independent and local businesses, we are also open to diversifying our offering.”

They added: “We are happy to engage with household-name brands such as Sports Direct, which will further boost footfall in the market and boost trade for all local ­retailers.”

Sports Direct did not respond to a request for comment.

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