Market Research: The Stalls of East London
‘Three for a fiver!’
I cannot tell you how many times I heard somebody fling out those words in to the waves of hats and coats heading down Columbia Road in London's east end. It was a fishing hook the market traders tossed out, reeled in and slung out again. The people eddied and flowed slowly between the two rows of stalls, packed with lush bunches and fluttering leaves. Dirty paper wrapping was littered the road underfoot in the narrow gauntlet, which became claustrophobic pretty quickly. Stoically, the traders didn't relent, their confidence immune from erosion when most people would rather dodge the bait and escape the crush.
Columbia Road Flower Market is a petal strewn winner though, the crowds on a cold blustery Sunday morning were testament to that at least. Tourists and bloggers brandish giant clicking cameras, getting pollen on their lenses. Hurried locals come to buy young eucalyptus branches, the latest fashion in foliage.
The traders themselves are economical with their attention. They make quick sales, wrap bunches and rush back to slinging their hooks out. Mostly men, they come across friendly and practised, it's a pleasure to observe the performances, which they've nailed after years of repetition.
Follow the snake of shoppers with their new greenery south and you’ll most likely end up at Brick Lane. The stalls at this renowned market are set out with a lot of love. People sell their passion, whether it is vintage cameras, vinyl records or the outrageously delicious Turkish gözleme (flatbreads filled with minced beef or spinach). In this area, the roles reverse, browsers wield the fishing rods, seeking treasure through the apparent murk of jumbled items. There is a fair amount of unusual stuff, one stall just had plastic dolls heads and rusty belt buckles for sale. Niche, but no doubt moon dust to somebody else.
Further down, the swirl of cooking aromas in the Boiler House Food hall is exhilarating on an empty stomach, especially if you are keen on grub with a bit of spice. Thick steam rises to the high ceiling above the global offering of street food favourites. Walk around long enough and you'll eventually fill up on little tasting nibbles being handed out at each stall with gleeful frequency.
If it is quality (and shelter) you're after, stride across Commercial Street to Spitalfields Market. There is a different style here, boutique and trendy. Heavy on the fashion side of things, you can pick up a smart pair of Camper treads while you chomp your Bleecker Street Burger.
London’s East End has been a hive of cultures and professions for centuries. If you were a Parisian fleeing persecution in the 18th century or a boutique barber with a pop up stool in 2016, it feels like there will always be space for you. Many a notorious bad guy has made it their business to stomp these grounds too, from the Jack the Ripper to the Kray twins. Evolving from these grimy and glamorous hard truths, now it is entrepreneurship that rules, with individuality and variety at it's core.