How the recovery became a ‘calamity’ for Dublin’s street markets

Dublin Flea Market has failed to find an alternative venue since May

 Dublin Flea Market at Newmarket Square in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Dublin Flea Market at Newmarket Square in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

There could not have been a less auspicious time to start an ambitious enterprise in Ireland than November 2008.

The Government had just guaranteed the banks, the economy was shrinking rapidly and confidence had evaporated. The country was at the beginning of a savage recession.

The Dublin Flea Market was everything the unlamented Celtic Tiger was not. It was frugal and understated. Its mission statement spoke of it being “not for profit” and for the promotion of “social entrepreneurship”.

The market went from 15 stalls in one warehouse to 80 stalls in two warehouses and on to the street. For traders it was the market to attend. Applications for stalls were regularly oversubscribed and the public responded. Thousands attended to buy vintage clothes, records, vegan cakes, handcrafts, paintings and old antiques.

The market started on the last Sunday of every month in Newmarket, then an underdeveloped but historic part of Dublin Liberties.

Other markets followed and the Brocante, Fusion, Rumble and Pure Vintage Fair markets filled up the other Sunday slots.

It all came to a halt last May when the owners of Newmarket Square, the Newmarket Partnership, announced that the area was being redeveloped. There is planning permission in place for an 80,000sq ft retail and office development in a scheme of between four and six storeys in height.

Dublin Flea Market in 2013. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Dublin Flea Market in 2013. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Confident

The announcement was not unexpected and the founders of the Dublin Flea Market were confident that another venue could be found.

After all, what city would not want a vibrant, colourful flea market? That city would appear to be Dublin.

Five months have passed since the last flea market was held in May. The organisers put together a business plan and approached Dublin City Council, the Office of Public Works, estate agents, landlords and community centres. They thought they had a lease on a warehouse in Inchicore, but were outbid by someone else.

In deep frustration last month, the flea market founders posted on their Facebook page that Dublin was now a city that was “unlivable and unlovable” - sentiments echoed by many of those involved in the creative industries.

Sharon Greene, one of the founders of the flea market and an installation artist, believes the recession was good for street markets, but the recovery has been a “calamity”. Seven have gone from the city in recent years including the five at Newmarket.

“When the recession hit, the city became so creative because a lot of landlords were open to renting out their properties,” she says.

“Markets create authentic culture. We can’t get a foothold into the city now with the rising rents and I think that really resonates with people.”

Test products

The flea market also impacted on the wider economy. Many small start-ups used the flea to test their products. “It’s so difficult to go from nothing in business to trading. Markets allow you to learn your pitch,” she explained.

Several entrepreneurs who have moved into shops in Dublin spoke to The Irish Times of the importance of the flea market in getting started.

Caryna Camerino spent several years attending the Dublin Flea Market and farmers markets before opening up her acclaimed bakery shop, Camerino, in Capel Street in the autumn of 2014. She recently added a second in Merrion Square East.

“The Dublin Flea Market was easily my most important market,” she said. “I did a lot of markets and there was never near as many people as was at the flea. The vibe of the market was like nowhere I saw before.

“It was also the people who were there. I had customers there who have coffee shops of their own and I was delivering to them. I have all my wholesale customers through word of mouth. Markets give small people a chance to grow organically.”