Globe Town Market’s last remaining full-time trader scales back his family business due to rising costs of fresh produce and lack of market footfall.
If you’ve recently travelled past Globe Town Market Square on a weekday, you might’ve noticed the absence of Marc Herbert’s colourful fruit and vegetable stall, which has been a constant presence on the square for nearly half a century.
This August, Herbert announced that he would scale back trading from five days a week to once a week on Saturdays from 8 am – 2 pm.
Marc’s father, Leslie, founded Herbert’s in 1974, and Marc started helping him on Globe Town Market Square when he was 14 years old.
The Herberts have run stalls across the East End for almost a century, selling fresh produce on Bethnal Green Road, Brick Lane, and in Hackney since at least the 1920s.
After fishmonger Del Downey’s departure last year, the only stalls remaining in Globe Town are Herbert’s Fruit and Salads, and Martin Fuller’s Plants, which only trades on Fridays and Saturdays. The market is unoccupied from Sunday – Thursday.
For the past 12 years, Herbert has run the business by himself but he says that the rising costs of fresh produce and the lack of footfall on Globe Town Market Square have forced him to pursue a different career as a regular maintenance worker for London City Council.
Herbert’s departure comes after the redevelopment of Globe Town Market Square which was completed earlier this year. The improvements included a mural, 19 trees and planters, more seating areas, two new gates and festoon lights to make the square more visually appealing.
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said: ‘We recognise that the cost of living crisis is creating an incredibly challenging environment for our traders and we are taking measures, including public realm works in Globe Town Market Square, to improve our high streets and encourage shoppers to return.’
Though he appreciated the Council’s effort to redevelop the square, Herbert felt disappointed in how the money was spent and that he and the other stallholders were not listened to during the consultation process.
‘It’s alright doing an area up and making it more attractive,’ says Herbert: ‘But the Square needs more market stalls to attract more people.
‘I suggested subsidizing rents or creating permanent huts for traders like the Council is doing in Whitechapel but nothing like that has been done.’
Herbert says what kept him going on the all-but-empty market square was his loyal customers and the diverse mix of people he met every day: ‘But fresh produce costs so much now and it only gets worse in the winter,’ he adds.
‘People around here don’t have the kind of money that customers on Broadway or Borough Market do. I started feeling guilty charging people £3 for a punnet of raspberries.’
As a fruit and vegetable trader, Herbert was working 65 – 70 hours a week and rising at 3:30 am every morning to buy fresh produce from Spitalfields Market, but he says the money was no longer warranting such an arduous work schedule.
Business was busier than ever for Herbert during the Covid lockdowns, but as society opened up again and people went back to work, they also reverted to old shopping habits based on convenience rather than quality.
With the cost of living showing few signs of abating, Herbert is thankful for the stability and security of his new job and feels that he’s made the right decision.
And he’s still going the extra mile for his clientele: on Saturdays, Herbert delivers fresh produce to elderly people who live locally and are unable to get to the stall.
With Herbert’s near-total departure, the future of Globe Town Market rides on whether the Council can attract any more stallholders back to the square.
A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said: ‘We will soon be launching the second round of applications for our Rebel Business School programme, which is a practical five-day course that teaches the fundamentals of being a market trader.
‘The aim of the course is to encourage more people to consider a career as a market trader and equip them with the skills they need to successfully start up. We are also looking to secure more funding so we can implement a communications plan that aims to raise awareness of the market and its offering.’
Though there is an eeriness to Globe Town’s empty Market Square on the weekdays, if we can’t have Herbert for five days a week, we’ll have to settle for one.
If you’re planning on visiting the stall this Saturday, we’d recommend getting there early for the first pick of the freshest produce. We hear the queue for Herbert’s is longer than ever.
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