It's 8am, which means the largest integrated wholesale market in the UK has been open for four hours. All 330,000 sq ft of it. In compulsory football comparison chat, that'll get you to almost five pitches worth of fruit, veg, flowers, poultry and fish. It's also the livelihoods of roughly 235 small businesses, their employees and families. And after over forty years, the melting pot is moving to Witton. We joined photographer Jack Spicer Adams for a fond farewell tour.
Well, farewell-ish. The hulking mix of colours, smells and life which is the maze of a site was rumoured to be heading for a March demolition, but we're betting the keys to our office that's not going to happen. Within the market, which would absolutely make Trip Advisor's Top 3 if it were in another country, we heard closure dates of any time from April, to August, to next year. Whatever happens, everyone we spoke to is planning to make the four-mile move, albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm.
The owner of Amin Sons & Co, Mohammed Naim Alvi (pictured) is a second generation Pakistani, whose father moved between Scotland, Reading and High Wycombe before settling in Brum. Continuing the family business, we interrupt Mohammed's son Ikhlas busy bartering. Methodically counting out bills, he progresses a trade while simultaneously talking to us and greeting almost everyone that passes — the price starts at £12 per tray.
"The market was much busier when I was younger, and the older generation had a lot to say — everyone keeps themselves to themselves these days." Asked about the likelihood of a fourth generation coming into the operation Ikhlas questions the future direction of the whole food sector, "there are so many ready meals going round, I'm not sure people will have time to cook in a few years". Ikhlas lets the trays go for a tenner each.
Traversing forklifts, crates and a lifetime's vitamins of apples, we meet Michael from Caribbean Produce (pictured). Based in Handsworth, the new location will make Michael's commute quicker but he's not really looking forward to it. "It's going to upset the outside stalls and there'll be less restaurants that use us. We can't survive without the walk-in trade too — the individuals like you." The Ghanaian flag (a gift from a customer) and Vanley Burke flyer will be making the journey either way, "he's my brother," he says of Vanley. "Did you see that exhibition where they put his whole flat in a museum?" We sure did.
Chris Wynne's been working at the market for 33 years and has seen it change hugely over that time. "Cars used to come right up to the stalls — once the traffic stopped, no one could move. That was a good twenty years ago, the pub closed more recently." Yep, as good as on-site, The Mercat Cross used to open at a ballsy 4am, for first and last drinks alike — Chris regularly found himself directing revellers through the market maze for that final tipple after a night in town. But that's not an excuse you need to witness this big-hearted bite of Brum. The market is open Monday through Saturday — you'll be very welcome. More pics
Imagery: Jack Spicer Adams
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