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Altrincham Market: Can Nick Johnson Re-invent It?

Will ambitious plans save Altrincham's declining town centre?

Written by . Published on September 18th 2013.

Altrincham Market: Can Nick Johnson Re-invent It?

NICK JOHNSON – ex Marketing Manchester, ex Urban Splash (though still a shareholder) ex CABE, ex the McEnroe Group, ex Atlas Bar – has a new venture.

“The property industry was all about creating permanence, with the market it is all about impermanence with the ability to change and recreate and create different experiences - that is where the value comes."

Freed from the shackles of office, he tendered for and won the contract to run the market in his home town of Altrincham and his tenure has just begun.

“I feel liberated,” he says. “The more organisations and quangos I joined the more impotent I felt. Probably the last significant impact I had was bringing Peter Saville to Manchester.”

 (Quite an admission for someone who was chair of Marketing Manchester for seven years.)

“I was making more of an impact in the 80’s when I was a bit of a terrorist and I want to recreate that spirit of actually doing something rather than talking about doing something. I want to get my hands dirty.”

Nick Johnson on the right talking to a stallholder

Nick Johnson on the right talking to a stallholder

He harks back to the days of Atlas when he and his partner Jenny Thomson aimed at providing the best looking bar, the best food, the best beer, the best music and the best atmosphere. He believes they can bring that same philosophy to markets.

He said: “Altrincham’s charter dates back to 1290, the market hall itself is beautiful and listed and dates back to 1870 and it was Cheshire’s pre-eminent market town. We propose to make it the best modern market town.

“The idea is to combine market tradition, high quality independent traders, customer convenience and new technology and we want to do each element really well.

“We want to create a ‘total’ experience - shopping, eating, drinking, and entertainment with each component part delivered by hand-picked independent businesses from across the North West of England.”

This is not rocket science and it is already being tried out elsewhere, with Manchester Feast Market running in St Ann’s Square later this month and more Food Festivals this summer than you could eat your way through.

Market interiorMarket interior

But Johnson argues: “The market’s success will be based on our curation of traders and the wider market experience from food to music and performance. We don’t think something like this has been tried before on a regular basis. In London people flock to the markets at the weekend because it is a lovely experience and they want to find good and interesting things. We think that can happen here too.

“It will be an antidote to the corporate brands and retail parks.”

They are installing free high speed WiFi so punters can pay by plastic and access the internet, tables to sit and eat at, a place to pick up the Sunday papers, bike deliveries for locals or a collect by car service.

(By the way parking in Alty is free on a Sunday and during the week costs 10p for an hour. TEN PENCE)

They even have their own flag.

 “Peter Saville designed a North West flag for Tony Wilson’s North West devolution campaign and I like to think he would have passed it with love onto us because we want to promote and encourage the identity of the North West as a whole. When I was at MM I always had to call it the City Region but it’s not. Manchester is a great city at the centre of a great region, we should make the most of all our strengths. It’s quite liberating to be able to say that,” says Johnson.

Charter stone

Charter stone

While the traditional market will continue four days a week with a bit of tweaking here and there the big changes will happen next spring when a regular series of Sunday markets begins; alternating between a farmers market; vintage fashion furniture and vinyl; handmade and producers and home house and garden.

And in the run up to Christmas they will be hosting The Great British Christmas Market – “a gentle riposte to the ubiquitous continental market,” smiles Johnson.

“We won’t be serving Bratwurst or Gluvine but sliced Cheshire ham and Bury black pudding and good British beer. We have to reclaim our identity.”

He sees markets as the driver for this identity, an ever changing kaleidoscope of talent and produce and theatre and showmanship and interaction and fun. They are the antithesis of the sterile supermarket shop.

And he believes they can be the breeding ground for new entrepreneurs and businesses. He said “We have seen the erosion of regional wealth and the polarisation of the economy towards London and the south and the fact that asset values have tumbled means that everyone has been affected by the downturn.

“The time has come to revive the high street and markets are increasingly the thing that people are talking about.

“It is about encouraging new businesses. You can get a stall for £30, no rates or overheads and you can do that for one or two days and it is a very, very quick and cost effective way to market and test your idea.

“And if it works you may think about taking space in one of the empty shops instead and build up that business. We need to create sticky wealth again – money made in the North West that stays in the North West and is not sent off to some big anonymous PLC.”

Most of the existing stall holders see Johnson as their knight in shining Prada riding to the rescue and cannot wait to get cracking with their expansion plans.

Others are less enthusiastic but Johnson is philosophical: “The market manager Paul has been here 34 years. When he started there were 16 guys involved in building up and taking down the market – now there are just two.

“And that’s the problem.

“Although change is very difficult to engineer what we cannot deny is that the market has declined both economically and culturally and that has to stop.

“I understand that if you have been trading here for 30 odd years then change is difficult, but there are also a good number who are fantastic who have embraced wholeheartedly the change and are very progressive and can see this is where the future is. There are others who struggle with that which is probably inevitable.

 “But ultimately the stall holders are all self employed people. All enterprising entrepreneurs and all independent and if they want to tell me to fuck off they can. Thankfully most haven’t. Not yet.”

There are ambitions to modestly extend the market so it better links with Shaw's Road and the main shopping streets. The same design team (PlanitIE and Civi Engineers) that took all the traffic lights and street clutter out of Poynton and successfully transformed the public realm there is working on something similar here that is about to go out for public consultation.

Johnson wants Altrincham and other markets unstalled

Johnson wants Altrincham and other markets unstalled

“The property industry was all about creating permanence, with the market it is all about impermanence with the ability to change and recreate and create different experiences - that is where the value comes.

“And if it works here, there is no reason why it would not work in other market towns across the region,” he says.

After posing for photos amongst the stalls he does his bit and goes and buys some fish from Emerson Taylor whose family has been running a fish stall on Alty Market for 78 years.

Taylor said: “We are pleased something is being done and if they balls it up it is not going to be good for them – we know where they live.”

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38 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Richard HJSeptember 18th 2013.

Went to Altrincham the other day for a poke around. Great little record shop (Beatnik), some cool little independent bars and cafes. Not nearly as lifeless as I was led to believe by folk. Good luck to them.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Noel HulseSeptember 18th 2013.

Beatnik is great - pies and records in the same shop!

Roger BarberisSeptember 18th 2013.

Went to eat outside at that great chippy in front of the market at Alty not long ago. Whole experience could have been great had it not been for smoky diesel 4x4's of the traders parking on and off the pedestrian forecourt (next to the sign that says 'No Parking Here At Any Time') as they packed up and went home at one 'o'clock on a sunny summer afternoon.... Just because you still have a small business doesn't mean you know what you are doing. Thats probably why it is still a SMALL business... They NEED Nick!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 18th 2013.

What a load of rubbish!!!!!! There's a retractable bollard on this street that isn't lowered until 4 pm to allow the traders to bring their vans on and load after that time!!!!!

Anne SmithSeptember 18th 2013.

That chippy is fantastic, the best fish ever!

JimSeptember 18th 2013.

The one on moss lane opposite the football ground is better. I can't remember what it's called(the good catch?) but best chip shop in south Manchester

AndySeptember 18th 2013.

Good Luck with the revival. Locals get behind and support... it's not all about the City centre or the Trafford Centre. There is room for independents, but we have to support them, not just talk about them. New Bus station going in, town centre hotel opened, another coming, ice rink, leisure centre, new hospital, seems like a recipe for a revival to me. new retailers, Onwards.....

AndySeptember 18th 2013.

.... and the Metro, Cinema, bars, restaurants, near the airport, spectacular schools, two theatres..... sorry, i'll get off my soap box and let you explore!

Reader XxxSeptember 18th 2013.

I run a business in Altrincham and am pleased to say that the change here is already tangible. Confidence and dynamism and pride are gradually coming back. The building of a new hospital, approval for new Altair scheme near the metro/bus station, Nick's patronage of the market ... all great for the town. It's sixteen years since the Trafford Centre opened and we can't use that excuse any more, although it obviously had and still has a huge impact. Shop and stall owners must be brave - keep their standards high. This injection of corporate pride is lovely to see but take note, all you residents of Hale, Altrincham, etc - you have to do your bit. Stop decrying the town and visit it, spend in it. Oil the wheels of commerce and future glory will follow. Let's make the jewel shine again.

Lynsey BrownSeptember 18th 2013.

Went to Altrincham last weekend with a friend and discovered a real gem, a small wine bar called No.3 Oxford Road, great drink selection and modern with a fab atmosphere, we will definitely be returning!

Sergeant Major ButterworthSeptember 18th 2013.

Dear Nick Johnson - get your haircut!

Tennis MenaceSeptember 18th 2013.

Having lived in the Hale area for 30 years and having seen the demise of Altrincham town centre, I really hope that the new initiative is a success and brings the locals back to the town shopping area. The stalls need to offer something different so why not create a Northern Covent Garden with street artists, jugglers, local artists, mime acts, and have stalls featuring bespoke jewellers and creatives selling their wares. How about an opera singer or a jazz quartet to generate some atmosphere or have a themed event to commemorate a time gone by or recreate a moment in history that would appeal to the locals.

VincentSeptember 18th 2013.

I would like stall here, who do I can contact?

AspersSeptember 18th 2013.

Dodgy spelling of "gluvine" ;-) but fab to seen black pudding and Cheshire ham will be there! The markets are great and we try and go every month - there have been real efforts over the Summer with even Guerrilla gardening happening - see @ouraltrincham - she is fab!

Don AllwrightSeptember 18th 2013.

Excellent news! Nick has the pedigree and enthusiasm; good luck to him. Success breeds success; Alty has plenty of money and underlying strength; it just needs a new direction.

AnonymousSeptember 18th 2013.

i'm also interested in the idea.. on a slightly different slant, anywhere to contact?

AnneSeptember 19th 2013.

To bring Nick in offers real hope for the market town of Altrincham. The Sunday markets sound great there are fantastic markets like the one in Greenwich where foods stalls bring in hundreds of customers with their families to try the vast array of different foods from all corners of the globe. The high street needs to be rid of those appalling steel barriers they have completely killed off this area of the town and look really ugly. I agree that the market chippie is fantastic

DrakeSeptember 19th 2013.

Good news, and what a great piece of writing

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Simon TurnerSeptember 19th 2013.

"Knight in shining Prada". Very good.

Poster BoySeptember 25th 2013.

Methinks someone has a crush...

JosephineSeptember 19th 2013.

Unfortunately a lot of people using public transport at the moment to get to altrincham and the current bus/ tram station renovation taking 18 months will affect traders ,I myself cannot walk the extra distance to my buses new temp stop and I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same !!! On the plus side I think the current new shops n forthcoming hospital will help regenerate the downs end of altrincham ,looking forward to a brighter future in altrincham

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2013.

I live in Altrincham and am not that worried by the decline of the town centre because it has also happened in so many other places. Altrincham as a whole has probably got more shop space than it ever has had if you count Tesco's, Sainsbury's, the retail park, Aldi and Waitrose. I miss the pre-huge supermarket days of a thriving Altrincham market and small independent butchers, bakers, grocers, greengrocers, wine shops, ironmongers and other small shops where everyone of all income brackets shopped, but they are not going to come back in Altrincham or anywhere else. The prospect of a hobby shopper style of market is of little interest to me, though I hope it is successful.

Barbara ArgyropoulosSeptember 21st 2013.

I will definitely be visiting the market to see all developments. One of my best memories of visiting London was a visit to Greenwich craft market Traders there do very well with quality, diverse products and also thriving cafes/ restaurants. A good farmers market with quality locally produced goods is also a far better shopping experience than any supermarket! I do miss the old town centres where there was character and individuality to them. I believe there is hope for that in Altrincham, with the right blend of good businesses and marketing.

Poster BoySeptember 25th 2013.

It's the vision thing.

NobbyOctober 12th 2013.


3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 12th 2013.


paulsouthernOctober 13th 2013.

Somewhere on the left of your keyboard is a Caps Lock key, press it! Bottom right is a , and a . use them! Might be able to read the comment then. ;-)

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2014.

Really expensive pitch for the stall holders, and over saturated departments, ie: 5 businesses selling cheese, 10 selling cakes, 5 selling pies, all next door to one another. Very hard for traders to do well, with the low footfall too. Difficult, as everyone would like the market to be a success, but unless the people of Altrincham spend money there, and fewer of the same stalls it wont work

D ClarksonOctober 17th 2013.

Levy Market did it, so Alty can. Just need the footfall. That needs good marketing.

NobbyOctober 18th 2013.

real people dont come to alty just the jeremys and ruperts and there snotty kids who dont spend a penny just pretend to be posh r i p alty

Frank DavenportNovember 1st 2013.

Its nice to see someone with passion for the Market(or has he) only I have a couple of issues. Why on earth would Trafford ask for someone to come in and upgrade the Market and then in the same breath allow Asda to open a huge store just 2 miles up the road at Broadheath beggars belief. Also I have now traded on Altrincham Market every Saturday since April this Year and only missed 2 Saturdays for a Holiday. Why when special Markets are put on like the Sunday Market recently where outside traders of crafts etc were invited did I have to read about it in my Local paper and I believe it was a success. I have lived in and around Altrincham for 45 Years I am a local Craftsman and yet I wasn't invited WHY ??.It makes you wonder does Nick want us to trade here or not do I not fit in with your scheme??? Ide like to think I am now classed as a regular Trader. By the way Nick when are we next going to see you I amongst others have several issues we would like to discuss with you. FRD WOOD CRAFTS.

NobbyNovember 1st 2013.

nick johnson hasent took over he hasent exchanged contracts yet why / he would be on a loser from day one / he hasent got a clue how to run a market

beechdaveNovember 15th 2013.

Many of upper floors of Alt. SHOP units are in disrepair - remember Oldham St M'cr BEFORE Mr Bloxham(Urban Splash) arrived ... Lets use these spaces for promoting affordable living accomodation - landlords earn zilch currently from this space. RESULT will be people living and spending in the town as it is CONVENIENT Markets previously survived off M&S gross inefficiences creating 2nds from UK factories and before Councils couldnt resist lure of huge megastores eg TESCO,SAINSBURY --- hey ho - are we surprised markets evaporated Trafford get truly involved and incentivise local property stakeholders PLUS you will get more C Tax .............Mmmm

NobbyDecember 6th 2013.

saturday is the main day on the market and tuesday but after xmas the council are going to badly disrupt the main market for no good reason ask matt colledge your local counceller why he is waisting your council tax when it should be spent on bringing shpos into the town

AnonymousOctober 18th 2014.

Well,perhaps Nobby represents all we don't want about the market and Altrincham.The market and the food served is fantastic.Quite honestly opening 10 Asdas in Broadheath will not harm great local,individual businesses.

ElizabethNovember 21st 2014.

was long over due 4 a paint job. should be safe 4 a while longer from demolition. as it holds no competition threats to Tescos, at the moment. I thought the food was very good, but did not buy as to expensive for lunch. the tables were beautifully designed, but had so many ridges and grooves, that they would need industrial cleaning after the kids had finish with food on them not my idea of hygiene. surprised there were aloud in this day and age.. good luck! old market.. Altrincham. the only building of quality in the town..

ElizabethNovember 21st 2014.

Why Altrincham is doing badly, we all know that Altrincham Was and will be again a Huge Gold mine, (RATES just for Altrincham really really high) council for 50 yrs as i can see, have been corrupt and now have no power to reverse the take over, no control, i believe when rates do come down who ever really pulls the strings in Altrincham will be a very rich group. total take over and we all know what's going on such a shame, its all done and dusted..no leader ship..

ElizabethNovember 21st 2014.

Hi my rant must have hit a cord as its gone was it the mention of corrupt council Rates to high in Altrincham mmm

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