Farewell to a much loved trader in Kirkgate Market for 40 years
Kay Sharma has been trading in Leeds Kirkgate Market since 1973 but closed her business last week, end of November 2013. Richard Edwards from BBC radio Leeds talked to her – Listen here. We also spoke to Kay and she told us about her life in the Market.
After 40 years trading in ladies fashion she feels she cannot sustain her business anymore. Her stall is in the 1976 hall, opposite an empty row of stalls. She reckons that the decline in the Market and her business started 10 years when the council “let the Market go”. 10 years of lack of investment and promises for changes that have never happened. Now, by no wrongdoing of herself her business has been blighted and she has been forcibly retired. After 40 years in the trade, what was the Market management reaction when she handed in her notice? They sent a standard letter asking her to vacate her stall by the last day of her contract. No visit from the Manager to thank for her rent for 40 years and inquiry if she would need anything, no card or kind letter. Just empty your stall. She had to ask for extra time to be able to empty all her goods after her last trading day.
Kay started trading with her husband in 1968 in various regional outdoor markets but settled for Kirkgate Market in 1973. At that time she took a lease which is no longer available to new tenants that would allow her to pass on or sell her business, (known as having the right of assignment in perpetuity) something she thought could come in handy when retiring. Now, however, as the Market has deteriorated, it would be very difficult to sell this business so she will retire empty handed. Now, however, as the Market has deteriorated, it would be very difficult to sell this business so she will retire empty handed. In 1975 she lost everything in the Market fire, 12 days before Christmas. In a meeting outside the next day the Council promised to rebuild the same Market. Instead they rebuilt the 1976/81 halls which were initially intended to be temporary, and a big sign saying “temporary Market” was left for years. In the new halls Kay was given a smaller stall and the way the halls were built it meant they were too cold and too hot. Later, few years ago, Kay was offered a better stall at the top of the 1976, near a door. However in the move she was not told she would lose part of her tenancy rights.
She has very fond memories of her life in the Market, especially her customers which in her interview with Radio Leeds she refers to as “her ladies”. She doesn’t actually regard them as customers but acquaintances and friends, who if she closed for a few days, would come and ask is she was all right. She developed special relationships with her customers by taking time to speak to them and find specific fashion items that they would like. She carefully chooses her stock, knowing her customer base. She sells skirts and top of good quality, many made in the UK, at reasonable prices, something difficult to find in Leeds City Centre these days. Once of her customers interviewed by Radio Leeds said that she had been wearing a cardigan bought at Kay’s for 30 years! When we put it to her that the council says that Kirkgate Market traders are outdated and have not caught on with new customer demands she responds that the council have no idea about trading and that she knows well her customer base and has adapted and changed with the times and the fashion. These emotional connections and immaterial relationships is what will go if the Market is changed into a more sanitised version. It functions as a social hub, bringing people together beyond a commercial act. When Richard Edwards asked Kay’s customer to say a farewell message she said: “we love you”. Now, you would not get that in Primark, would you? Or in the new shiny Trinity? And no, this is not nostalgia, but a desire for a city made up of trusting, respectful, fair, relationships of which the Market is a privileged site.