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Havelska market

Sales fell 0.3% because of awful weather and the recession.

How was your Christmas trading? Good I hope – despite the long hours, discount competition and light fingers looking for a little something extra. Anecdotal evidence suggests Market sales held up pretty well in 2011 as shoppers looked for bargains. Mainstream retailers announced a mixed bag of results though. Like-for- like sales for multiples were up 2.2% but that was nothing to crow about in comparison to Christmas 2010 when sales fell 0.3% because of awful weather and the recession. Despite the continuing recession in 2011 the unseasonably good weather should have made Christmas 2010 easy to beat.

Sainsbury announced ‘their best Christmas ever’. Ocado and online sales were the big winners – up 20% or so.

Debenhams, JD Sports and Next all reported flat sales with some retailers like Blacks Leisure never even making it through the festive period. Tesco issued a profits warning which wiped the odd billion or two off their share price, but Sainsbury announced ‘their best Christmas ever’. Ocado and online sales were the big winners – up 20% or so. You know online marketing makes sense. Mainstream fashion retailers were stuck with furry coats in an Indian summer which prompted pre-Christmas sales earlier than ever with 25-50% discounts the norm. Buying departments were left with faces redder than Santa because you just can’t rely on the weather anymore, can you?

Amidst all this uncertainty December seemed like a good time for some research, courtesy of Wizzair. OK, the hotel was above a lap dancing club in Prague but what more can you expect from a cheap weekend package?

There are two good reasons for visiting the Czech Republic – it’s outside the Euro and everyone speaks English. Prague doesn’t have Budapest’s amazing market halls but since it became part of the EU in 2004 the Czechs have been quietly sorting out their economy whilst steering clear of the Euro. The City puts a lot of effort into the all-year general market on Havelska and the wonderful Christmas markets on Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. One of the few good aspects of being behind the Iron Curtain was to preserve their historic buildings.

The quality and variety of goods was excellent with toys and decorations handmade on the stall with a healthy disregard for the excesses of Health & Safety. I’ve never seen a working blacksmith or glass blower on a market before.

But the Eurozone crisis reaches everywhere. Stallholders confirmed how visitor numbers had dropped off as German tourists and British Stag weekenders stayed at home. The markets were staying open in January hoping for a post- Christmas influx of Russians celebrating the Orthodox New Year. Despite lingering memories of the Prague Spring of 1968 they were more than willing to empty their wallets. Sadly, the same weekend the death was announced of the inspirational Czech president Vaclav Havel who led the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Yes, life can be tough at Christmas – ask Celebrity Chef Anthony Worrall Thompson, cautioned for alleged shoplifting offences at Henley Tesco. This gave rise to a string of jokes such as ‘Why did the chicken cross the road? – Because it was under Anthony’s jacket’ etc. but he was in good company with Peaches Geldof, Winona Ryder and Tom Campbell – former advisor to Boris Johnson. Tom came up with a wonderful, career-ending confession whilst cultural strategy advisor to the Mayor of London: ‘When I go into a chain place for lunch I have to steal so they don’t make a profit out of me’ he announced. ‘I always steal the pudding or the soup or something. When you’re like, 40 they don’t grab you or anything – they just say ‘Sir, I think you’ve made a mistake…’ and then let you go. If I could I’d ban Tesco Metro’s, burn Nando’s and all Pret a Mangers would be wiped out. It’s what’s strangling the creativity of this city.’

Well, Tom you do have a point but I wouldn’t try that at Mudford-on-Sea Market. Stallholders there have spotted the marketing potential of a ‘Celebrity Shoplifting’ competition. The winner will be selected for the most imaginative excuse: ‘But I do a lot of work for charity / I’m always being picked-on for being ginger’ etc. and the winner really will get out of there. Losers will have to work as shelf-stackers in the Mudford Tesco. Let the punishment fit the crime.