STALLHOLDERS at Swansea Market have welcomed a decision by council chiefs to prolong rent discounts, but worry that low footfall could push some traders to the edge.
Around half of them are open once again but no more than 250 customers are allowed into the market at any one time due to coronavirus restrictions, and opening hours are less than usual.
Only 2,640 people visited the market the first day it reopened, compared to an average figure in normal times of 10,000.
It has more than 100 businesses – from clothes stalls, butchers, bakers, bookshops to jewellers.
Some cabinet members referred to the market as the jewel in Swansea’s crown at a meeting on July 16.
Cabinet has decided that stallholders will pay 35% rent from June 29 to August 23, rising thereafter to 70% up to November 16, when it will revert to 100%. No rent was charged between March 9 and June 28.
Extra support will be given for those unable to open for now, such as nail bars.
Stallholder Rhys Williams, the owner of The Market Place, said: “Obviously it’s better than nothing, but the way it is at the moment it’s just hard to make any money.
“Footfall is nearly non-existent. I’ve got a feeling that a few stalls won’t last.
“Public transport is a major thing for us. There aren’t enough people coming in (on buses).”
Wayne Holmes, the owner of Market Spares, also raised the public transport issue.
He added: “There is still the fear factor, as such. The footfall at the moment is down horrendously.”
Mr. Holmes said the rent reduction would help “a little bit”, but added: “I don’t think we should be paying rent at the moment, full stop. There’s just so much against us.”
He claimed a cafe in the market had taken just £26 one day last week.
“How do you expect that person to pay a wage to their staff and themselves, and to pay rent?” he said.
Told about the rent discount decision, Mark Ridgway, the owner of City Flowers, said: “It will definitely help – 100%, absolutely.”
He has a shop which is open in Neath and plans to reopen his Swansea Market stall next week.
“I’m not the biggest fan of councils in general, but I will say that they have helped the market with the rent concessions,” he said.
Dan Stallard, of The Falafel Stall, said sales were down by three-quarters and that the rent support would help, as did Shahram Nazabi, of Kandy’s Tailoring.
“It’s a good idea,” said Mr. Nazabi. “We hope it will go on for longer.”
He feared footfall might not return to normal until February or March 2021, and said trade was very slow at present.
“I normally have three tailors, but now I just have one part-time,” he said.
Stallholders have been able to apply for separate Government-backed support schemes, such as 80% wage costs for furloughed staff.
The council collects around £1.1 million rent from the market in a normal year.
The period of nearly four months of free rent equates to £367,060 of lost council income. The rent discounts through to November will wipe out a further £201,000.
The authority spent £400,000 on the market in 2019-20 and is to upgrade entrances and install new toilets and a communal area.
The report before cabinet said it was “explicitly assumed” that decisions by councils to reduce or waive charges due on reopening after the pandemic would not be claimed back from the Welsh Government.
It said the cost of the market rent decision would be funded from the council’s contingency fund.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Cllr Robert Francis-Davies said a number of stallholders had delivered produce during the lockdown and been of great service to residents in need.
Proposing the rent subsidy, he said: “I think that as a council that wants to be supportive of our traders, this is the right thing to do.”
Cllr Clive Lloyd, who once worked in the market, said: “I think this is a really good, supportive and balanced approach.”
He reckoned the market was as much a retail anchor for Swansea as Debenhams.
“To lose traders would have a huge impact on the city centre,” he said.
The proposed market rent subsidy was raised at a scrutiny committee meeting earlier this week.
Opposition leader, Cllr Chris Holley, said at that meeting: “I have no problem with the market (proposal).
“It’s probably the jewel in Swansea’s crown.”