By David McQueen
THE people are moving quickly, with purpose and determination. Nobody makes eye contact in this part of Glasgow; they don’t want to be caught in a conversation. But this isn’t some city slum, this is Glasgow city centre. The hunting grounds of those with payday money in their pockets and a hunger for wanting more than they can afford. It’s not surprising then that, nestled between the Argyle Arcade, with its gold and silver jewellery, and Zara, you’d barely notice the sign for Sloans marketplace.
The future of this market is uncertain, with only a Saturday and a Sunday to turn a profit and with the constant threat of rising stall rental prices, some stall holders are concerned that their market faces an upheaval that could see them becoming either more like the infamous Glasgow’s Barras market, who tout cheap tobacco and DVDs to make ends meet, or another expensive retail arena, with stalls instead of display cases and prices that would make the regulars think twice.
To enter the market, you pass through a narrow tunnel lined with stalls. These independent traders have lined this tunnel for over a decade, despite a failing economy and the increasing competition from the upper-market shops surrounding them. They come here every Saturday and Sunday, set up stall, and lay out their wares – each piece of jewellery homemade and unique, each painting done by the stall-holder.
The main market area is small, but infinitely large in originality. Paintings cover the walls, stallholders look at you with a welcoming smile, and the woman standing at the tarot stall gazes into the eyes of passersby. The aroma of incense hangs in the air around her.
Samantha Brown - a stallholder specialising in steampunk jewellery, which embraces a sci-fi take on Victorian designs – describes the atmosphere as “friendly and helpful – we’re like a small community here”. Given the close quarters of the tightly packed market, this isn’t surprising.
“I started coming down here a few years ago with bits and bobs of jewellery to sell,” she continued. ”When I started I was getting nowhere, but one of the other stallholders looked at a necklace of mine that was steampunk, and told me that I should get more like that because she hadn’t seen any like it on the other stalls. So that’s what I did, and it worked.”
While fierce competition rages in the High Street, this attitude doesn’t seem to have made it past the tunnel entrance of Sloans. Samantha’s stall neighbour Andrew McGhee – who sells quality artwork that he creates in his spare time – says the stallholders look out for one another.
“When younger people like Samantha come down and set up a stall, the ones who have been doing this for a while always like to pitch in and offer a helping hand if they look like they need it,” he said. ”A lot of the regulars that come here are quite savvy and they can take advantage of the new ones if they spot them.
“I like to think that this market has a good tradition of offering good prices and a nice atmosphere. The Sloans pub has been standing since the 1700s, and usually what would happen is that a man would get an engagement ring in the Argyle Arcade and have his wedding reception in the Sloans ballroom. So here, what usually happens is that you come in here if you want a one-off as a wee surprise for someone, and you’d go to Argyle Arcade for something like a birthday present. The great thing is that the outdoor drinking space for Sloans is right by the market, so you can enjoy a pint while you have a look around for anything that catches your eyes. We’re all working together to keep the place up and running.”
The traditional elements that McGhee touches upon have certainly carried through to the marketplace, but that is not to say that the area has not seen some developments in the past few years. After all, with all its allure and sense of community, it remains a business – and survival is paramount. You’ll notice that these days, for example, there are flyers being posted over some of the artwork. The intimate atmosphere is somewhat removed by the menus that are now placed outside the entrance, along with a banner declaring “DOORS OPEN DAY”.