Edinburgh Christmas: Traders anger at booze focus

Drinkers at this year's Christmas festivities. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Drinkers at this year's Christmas festivities. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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TRADERS at the Capital’s revamped Christmas Market have expressed concerns that it has become too dominated by alcohol sales and is losing some of its family-focus.

Some stall-holders said they had closed early – ahead of the market’s newly extended 10pm closing time – after finding that no one was buying their goods as the bars got busier later in the evening.

Opinion is split among the traders with several first-time vendors saying they have “no complaints” about how things are shaping up this winter. One of those, Dorothy Black, who runs the Alandas seafood stall in St Andrew Square, said: “It’s brilliant, I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks.”

But some of the returning stall-holders questioned the direction that the market was taking.

The market organisers said it had been busier than ever this year and that the number of bars had only increased in line with the expansion of the festival which has more than tripled in size.

Dayini Feraud, who manages a stall beside the National Gallery selling toys and ornaments, said: “I’ve been coming here for 10 years, and I really feel this year it’s lost its charm. Too many stalls are very ‘samey’, and profits are way down. And there are far too many places selling alcohol – you can see three just from here.

“We also got told at the last minute that we have to open 12 hours a day when it used to be ten. If this is how it’s going to be I don’t know if we’ll be coming back.”

Charlie MacKenzie, 21, of Stockbridge, who runs the Powder stall in St Andrew Square and has been involved in the market for three years, said that on Monday night several traders closed early in protest at the extended hours. He said: “They just want us to stay open because the bars do, but people aren’t shopping at that time. They’ve now decided to review the timings. Organisation-wise it’s all seemed a bit last minute.”

John Edwards, 41, of Fountainbridge, who runs his own business commissioning hand-crafted goods for many of the German market traders, said a number of his clients were unhappy. He said: “These traders have been promised the earth in exchange for the extra money they’ve had to put in this year, and they really feel like they’ve been misled.

“Traders say Underbelly have shown no regard for the traditional, much-loved market and that there are far too many stalls selling alcohol, which is ruining the usual family atmosphere and causing a rise in disturbances and pick-pocketing. They’re also being asked to keep their stalls open until 10pm every night, because that’s when the bars shut.”

Police Scotland said there had been no increase in reports of antisocial behaviour and Underbelly said it had “significantly increased” the security presence at the German Market.

Last month, the Evening News revealed many stall-holders were unhappy about the rising price of taking part in the event, being run by Underbelly for the first time. Stall-holders claimed operating costs have risen by as much as 50 per cent.

Charlie Wood, director of Underbelly and producer of Edinburgh’s Christmas said: “The market by all accounts has been busier than any previous year.

“For the first time ever, we also have a Children’s Market in St Andrew’s Square and a host of re-imagined attractions for children. The majority of German Market traders have returned this year, with only three choosing not to.” Mr Wood also confirmed that it had been agreed traders could close at 9pm.

Deputy council leader and Festivals Champion Steve Cardownie urged traders to have patience and allow the new organisers time to fine-tune the event. He said: “All the feedback I’ve had has been very positive. Also, I would think the ale outlets would be likely to attract more people, meaning more business for the stalls. But it’s still the very early stages, we haven’t even hit December yet, and there is likely to be a marked upturn in business as the weeks go on.”

‘The number of bars is a bit ridiculous’

We asked families in Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square what they thought of the new Market.

• Alison Young, 39, from Port Seton, was enjoying the new look event with her son Josh, four, and friend Tracy

Cunningham.

• She said: “It’s great, really nice. The Skyride looks a bit scary, but we’ll definitely go on the Carousel, and Josh is very excited about Santa. It is a wee bit pricey though, and the number of bars is a bit ridiculous. The space could have been better used for a soft play or outdoor jungle gym for the kids.”

• Marie Gallagher, 41, and Kyle Smith, 46, were visiting from Dunblane with their children Erin, five, and Emmett, 20 months. Marie said: “This is our first time here. It’s nice but it’s a bit expensive and I thought it would be more child-orientated. We were told this is meant to be the Children’s Market and the first thing you see is a bar. The market down at Princes Street is much nicer. This bit doesn’t feel all that Christmassy.”

Down on Princes Street, most seemed to agree the market was still in good shape.

• Carol and Brian Tynan, of West Lothian, had brought their sons Danny, four, and Liam, three, for the second time in as many weeks.

Carol said: “Thanks to these two we didn’t even make it to the actual stalls last week – they just wanted to keep going on the rides. I really like the new Big Wheel, the enclosed carriages feel much safer. The prices seem pretty much the same as they’ve always been – high! But it’s only here once a year so we don’t mind splashing out.”

• Steven Morrison, 31, and his wife Fiona, 32, had come to the Capital from Falkirk, giving Amy, 14 months, her first taste of the market.

Steven said: “We came to the market a couple of years ago and we really liked it. I think it’s even better this year. There’s more different things to buy. The prices are reasonable for what you get – it’s all handmade, crafted stuff.”

Fiona said: “I’ve been buying Christmas decorations, soap, jewellery . . . It’s really nice, there’s a lovely family atmosphere and kids love it.”