Brought to you by the letter ‘O’
For me, living in the city centre of Leeds certainly has its perks. Since moving here two months ago I feel that I have discovered some of the best experiences Leeds has to offer. From coffee shops to bars and from clothes stores to eateries, being only a moment away from great independent businesses is just one of the reasons I love to live here. And living next to Leeds Kirkgate Markets is the biggest convenience of all.
I’d love to say I planned to live next to this brilliant emporium all along, though that was not the case. Uncovering the brilliance of Leeds Markets turned out to be one big coincidence, albeit a happy one. It was only after I had moved in and woke up one morning to discover that the milk in my fridge had started to resemble something that can only be described as cellulite. After a dash to the market in my joggers (not pyjamas at all, honest), I found not only milk but quite literally any day-to-day item you could ever hope to purchase.
Leeds market is bundled inside a beautiful Grade I listed building. First opened in 1822 as an open-air market, the market started by selling goods not too dissimilar from what is sold today. Moving on to the late 19th century and Leeds Markets was home to the first Marks & Spencer store.
Originally located in the outside section of the market, Marks’ Penny Bazaar first opened in 1884. The business found its market by selling goods at affordable prices; next to the stall was a poster that read ‘Don’t Ask the Price, It’s a Penny.’
From humble beginnings to global chain, Marks & Spencer now has more than 1,000 stores in over 40 countries. A perfect example of Marks & Spencer’s success will be in the form of a 196,300 square feet store proposed to be built as part of a new retail development at the bottom of the market in 2015.
Eastgate Quarters, a planned £650 million retail development, will house retail giants such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer in the Kirkgate/Eastgate area. I just hope that the market will benefit from the money currently being invested into corporate retail developments.
Goods sold at the outdoor open market stalls vary from day-to-day, depending on whether you visit on Asian market day or flea market day. Besides that goods being sold are generally similar to those sold at the indoor market stalls. Inside the market, stalls remain the same year-round selling fresh fish, fruit and veg’, meat, deli and bakery products.
I find that some of the most useful stores are the ones selling exotic foods, spices and oils rarely found on the high street. You can also pick up specialist foods at Polish, Chinese and Russian supermarkets. These stalls usually provide everything I need to make exotic dishes.
Non-food stalls at the market include haberdasheries, electronic shops, tailors and repair shops. There are also stalls selling discount household goods, hairdressers/beauty salons and tattoo shops!
One of the best times to visit is a Saturday morning. Wandering through the row upon row of stalls ranging from fresh fruit and veg’ to falafel bars, and I defy anyone not to get a rush from the eclectic atmosphere. The hustle and bustle of a successful and thriving market place is infectious. Deep, booming voices call out to passersby, enticing people over to their store. Banter cuts through the air as I am listening intently to someone recommend what exotic vegetables I can use in a stir-fry.
Of course you don’t get a back story with every product sold – after all these people have businesses to run. However, it’s nice to know that when asked the staff don’t say, “erm, I’ll go find out for you.” The main point is that it’s not an effort for the sellers to tell you what sauce goes best with king prawns or what you can put in a stir-fry that’s different from the usual ingredients; this is because most traders have the knowledge at their fingertips.
One of the biggest excuses for not paying custom to our independent stores is the convenience and price factor. However, with everything under one roof and goods sold at prices supermarkets simply can’t compete with, need I say more? Oh wait, I forgot to mention that the fresh quality of the goods sold here is second to none. If you can manage to visit just before the end of the day that’s when the best deals are on, especially on the fruit and veg’ stores.
Leeds Kirkgate Markets opening hours: Mon–Sat 8.00am–5.30pm