Portobello Market: A day in the life of a stall holder
Portobello Market has long been noted as one of London’s must-see destinations. Once a simple food market providing local residents with 1940’s home essentials, it is now a multi-cultural melting pot, drawing in millions of visitors each year. Whether on the hunt for antiques, some home cooked Jamaican jerk, second hand street fashion, artisanal goods, or just to marvel at the array of colourful Victorian architecture; Portobello has something to offer for everyone.
Which is why we decided to take up a stall to sell our Boxers.
Saturdays are the designated Fashion trading day, meaning it’s an early start by 6am to get a good spot. We show up with some cash in our pockets and pure excitement for our first experience as a stall holder in one of London’s oldest and most notorious of markets. Danny, the market manager is clearly in charge, bellowing out names as people quickly move out of his way. He gives us a nod towards our table – no questions asked, we are in.
By 9am the market feels like it is fast coming alive. We hit the jackpot with the weather and find a bright crisp sunny morning with cold blue skies ahead. But weather aside, it feels like nothing could dampen the market’s spirit, with the sweet sound of Jamaican reggae and multi-lingual chitter chatter all around us. We soon meet local legend ‘Flipper‘, who has been busking these streets for decades. Dressed all in purple lycra and with his one shiny white tooth, he is full of charisma as he shows us his latest dance moves. We meet Zafer, a local Lebanese tradesman, who has been trading everything possible for 30 years. His sales strategy? Keep hold of everything that comes your way, there is no such thing as junk, and sell it on. He declares himself a happy man but warns us that times are much harder than they have been and we are unlikely to succeed in our mission.
APEX store, our neighbouring stall holders are busy all day selling to avid vintage street fashion lovers. These boys know what they’re doing and love what they’re doing. I have no doubt the empire they tell us about will shortly transpire. Opposite us is Emika, a 27 year old Japanese jeweller who has single-handedly made over 200 pieces for sale, each one more mesmerising than the next. Our resident DJ has switched from reggae, to drum and bass, to pop, and back to reggae. He is selling second hand CDs, vinyls and tapes to many an avid fan for as little as £3.
By 3pm the food smells are overwhelmingly tempting and we sample between us an international banquet of Korean steamed dumplings, Thai skewers and curries, a Lebanese falafel burger and authentic Spanish paella. Slurped back with a cold pint of fine English brew offered to us by another fellow stall holder artist ‘Drew’ straight from Scotland, we are having a blast of a Portobello day.
But there is undeniably a sadder note to our experience. Grenfell tower feels raw with hurt and will forever be a reminder of our societys failure. Investments are being directed at commercially viable brands and chains, independent shops are fighting to stay, and although you might not know it as a first timer, Portobello market is suffering. In a world where money talks and convenience rules, we are left wondering what would London be without markets such as this one.