By Sian Bayley, Local Democracy Reporter
The globally famous Tooting market has started to reopen, with strict social distancing measures in place to protect traders and customers.
Visitors are asked to wear facemasks within the famous indoor market, which was built in 1930, and there are a number of floor markers dotted around to remind visitors to remain two metres apart from each other.
Food traders were the first to start up again last Saturday (May 16), and offer a takeaway service only, with seating areas closed off from the public.
A number of screens have also been installed to protect traders.
Measures are also being put in place to prepare for other stall owners such as tailors, jewellers, and even nail salons to reopen, as and when government advice allows them to do so in the coming months.
The owner of the market, Mrs S Gilbert, said the market had put all the necessary measures in place, but it was difficult to force people to wear face masks.
“We try to do every single thing and unfortunately the government is not forcing the fact that you have to wear a mask and some people don’t want to put it on. And that’s a big problem. But we try to ask people to put it on,” she said.
“We just basically want to protect the traders, and we want to protect the customers.”
She said only the food hall is open at the moment, and perspex screens on counters help to protect traders and clients.
The market team also provides guidance to help traders as they begin to start up again.
“Each person that wants help, we give them help to do it. Helping as much as we can, trying to do our best and keeping the market nice and clean and tidy and we do clean the floors with the special Dettol, and whatever they tell us to do we do,” she said.
“Everybody wants to get back as soon as possible, but everyone is also concerned until they get the right things to do from the government.”
Mrs Gilbert said many traders have been left “frustrated” at the lack of business support from government.
To help traders get off the ground, the market is easing its rents.
“We’re giving people some free time and afterwards they will have to pay only half of the cost, until they get into the swing of things of making money. We have to allow them to make some money,” she said.
“The traders are very happy that we are reopening and that there has been some movement in the market. Some people like the little shops, the retail shops, they are waiting, asking ‘when are we going to be able to come?’ So we suggested to a lot of them, ‘why don’t you come and clean your shop, make it ready so when the day comes you will be able to move in?’ We kept all the stuff that belongs to the traders inside the shops, nobody moved that.
“Everybody is still holding on.”
The market is open the usual days and hours to allow for popular evening takeaway and delivery calls.
“We are hoping for the best,” said Mrs Gilbert.
But while the fruit and veg stalls on the high street seem to be doing well, the market isn’t back to it’s usual “humming” self just yet as people are still advised to stay at home as much as possible.
Ravi Dabysing, owner of and chef of the popular Mauritian restaurant Mangé des Îles, said “business is suffering”.
Since reopening last week, Mr Dabysing says he has only been taking in between £20 and £50 a day as people are too frightened to come into the market and are not in a position to spend much money.
While he has been offering a wider delivery service to get more custom, there hasn’t been much uptake yet.
With business drying up before the lockdown started, issues trying to get help from the self-employed scheme and other government grants, all while still having electric bills and vehicle insurance to pay, he says “market traders have suffered a lot” and that he is feeling “low”.
VBelly, a vegan restaurant in the market, began operating a pop-up site from a closed pub in Kennington during the lockdown while the market was closed off, so was able to continue some trading in the interim.
Now it’s back open in Tooting again, and benefiting from its position on the edge of the market that opens out on to Totterdown Street.
Co-founder Adam Blake says business is “pretty good,” with more deliveries coming in, and loyal followers happy to queue on the street outside where there is more space to wait.
The eatery will continue to be open at both sites on Wednesdays to Sundays each week.
Tooting grabbed headlines in 2017 when travel guide Lonely Planet made it one of the top 10 places to visit in the world – and almost every piece of coverage across the globe had a picture of the market.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.