As lockdown eases, London’s Camden Market wakes up

A vendor prepares waffles on his stall at Camden Market in London on June 1, 2020 as outdoor markets reopen following an easing of the lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. — AFP pic
A vendor prepares waffles on his stall at Camden Market in London on June 1, 2020 as outdoor markets reopen following an easing of the lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. — AFP pic

LONDON, June 2 — London’s famous Camden Market cautiously opened yesterday for the first time in 10 weeks, with stallholders excited to welcome customers — if and when they return.

Pitta shop owner Alon Sharmir said he had “no expectations” about how busy he might be over the next few weeks.

“I’m very excited — very happy!... just to see people, just to see that it’s open again,” he told AFP.

Tourists usually pack the streets here, drawn by the diverse clothes shops, food outlets and vibrant music scene.

But early yesterday, the only people out and about were shopkeepers, street cleaners and a few locals.

John Jellesmark and his girlfriend Rikkie Andersen, who are from Denmark but live nearby, came along to see what was open.

“It’s very different from usual. It’s still pretty slow, it looks like the market is basically waking up,” he told AFP. 

Light at the end of the tunnel

Camden Market shut its doors on March 23, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a nationwide stay-at-home order to try to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Outdoor heaters are still dotted around, out of place in the current heatwave, a reminder of how it was shut down overnight. 

They are now joined by dispensers filled with hand sanitiser.

So far, at least 39,000 people have died of the virus in Britain, the worst toll in Europe.

Despite this, Johnson’s government has started to ease the lockdown, with some pupils returning to school and outdoor markets like Camden reopening on Monday.

Most shops are not permitted to open for another fortnight, but several in Camden were getting ready.

Mario Warner was repainting the outside of his clothing store and training staff on how to maintain social distancing.

“We are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, it looks like it’s coming and it’s coming soon. We can’t wait!” he said.

Regulars return

At lunchtime, the first curious customers arrived for something to eat, drawn by the choice of foods from around the world.

Near the entrance of the market, a falafel stand was doing brisk business.

“There’s a lot of familiar faces, a lot of loyal customers,” said the manager, Stephan, wearing a mask.

Local resident Magdalena only discovered the market was open again when she wandered past on a walk.

“It’s great to see some shops opening up,” she said, a fruit juice in her hand. “It’s made my day a little bit.”

Standing near his Indonesian restaurant, John Knowles, is not sure now is the right time to open its doors.

He criticised Johnson’s approach, saying: “They’re opening up to too quickly. I don’t think the population is ready for it.”

But he needs to try to restart his business, and wants to support the market, after his landlord suspended rent during the lockdown, so he is opening.

Until the tourists return, the market will seek to attract Londoners — and some traders insist the appeal is still the same.

Stephan points to a busker in the street, a reminder of the musical heritage of Camden, which hosts a statue to the late local singer Amy Winehouse.

“The atmosphere is very much similar to the way it was, because if you look around, you still see the same bright and creative minds,” he said. — AFP

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