Just the other day, I was walking down the bustling road that is Tooting High Street, marvelling at the amount of shoppers, the street sellers and the friendly smiles of people as they walked their way home from a trip to the markets. Yes, the markets. The Tooting Market and the Broadway Market. The two places that are famous for their multicultural cuisine and the immense selection of strange and interesting wares sold within. But, more often than not, they are quoted as being infamously ‘dated and tired’, ‘tacky’ and even a health hazard with the Broadway Market’s ‘asbestos [-filled] corrugated roofing’, as one disgruntled resident said. The question is, have the markets got to go?

The largest indoor market in South London, as quoted from the Broadway Market’s website, is becoming desperate. As I walked through it to gather some information to even write this article, I was asked at least five times if I wanted to purchase a pillow, or some jewellery, or some clothes. As I paused to look at a duvet, I was offered an immediate discount, even before expressing my interest in the product. The whole market smells strange and the butchers somehow manage to spill blood over a metre away from the actual meat counter. Coming out the other side of the market, and ignoring the disgusting smell of something I identified to be some kind of shrivelled up bun on display in a cafe, I noticed another revoltingly tacky (recent) addition to the market- a large, cheap black board had been plastered to the front of the market’s main entrance, and in the blandest font possible, the words ‘BROADWAY MARKET’ had been splayed with a link to an out-dated website directly underneath it. Yes, the market that had been open ever since 1936 had only just been given a facelift. A cheap, shoddy facelift.

Tooting Market is well known for many things, one being its rather nice Art Deco frontage facing the street, which was well preserved since its incarnation in 1930, but one resident commented that it was ‘spoilt’ by two ‘awnings/canopies’ that were often ‘pulled out due to [adverse] weather conditions’. Unlike the frontage, these awnings were ancient- maybe not 82 years old, but old enough to become very ‘old and tatty’. Even when they were installed, one was originally orange and white and the other green and white, making the whole awning operation a botch from the start. The resident complained that the market also ‘had a particularly messy look’ with its tatty awnings, potholed aisles and starved proprietors looking to actually sell something to someone for a change. He also commented that a ‘new smart sign board with the market name on it… would make a difference [there]’.

Tooting’s other market, the Broadway Market, did indeed invest in a sign that I mentioned before- the new, plasticky sign with the words ‘BROADWAY MARKET’ emblazoned on it is a prime example of why the Broadway Market has got to go, or even be completely redesigned- it is not smart and not new- however it did indeed make a difference. For the worse. It did not sit flush to the wall, looked tacky and dated and the difference it made was negative- now the market façade looks less like a market and more like a cheap shop. If Tooting wants to make itself look better, it’s got to ditch the likes of Poundland and reinstate the quality and respectability of shops like Marks And Spencers on the high street, and the first step to doing this is surely demolishing the tatty, old and eyesore-like focal point of the town- ‘the largest indoor market in South London’ and redesign it drastically, so it does not look like a rotten apple in a basket full of good ones. If this happens, Tooting may once more be able to call upon their markets as the jewels of their crown instead of an asbestos-poisoning incident just waiting to happen- and I’m sure the sellers inside would also appreciate a new, updated atmosphere where they can sell in peace, without worrying about the asbestos.

Onwards I walked, past Poundland, and as I looked inside, I began to sigh at the crying babies, the crappy selection of cheap tat on sale, and goods strewn on the floor like straw in a pig sty. Things have GOT to change.

February 2012