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London’s Biggest Food Hall Says Social Distancing Makes Reopening Impossible

Market Halls, which has three sites, in Victoria, Fulham, and on Oxford Street, announced it will make all staff redundant

Market Halls Victoria, in 2018
Market Halls Victoria — a standout opening in 2018
Christopher Horwood/for Market Halls Victoria

Market Halls, the company which operates three of the biggest food halls in the U.K., has announced that its sites on Oxford Street, in Victoria, and Fulham will remain closed. It will now begin the process of redundancy for all staff having concluded that there is no viable path to reopening with social distancing rules in place.

A statement sent to Eater this afternoon says that ongoing uncertainty and a loss of shoppers and workers from London means that the indoor food markets will remain closed until further notice.

Due to the ongoing uncertainty around when government will withdraw social distancing, and when workers and shoppers will return to London in higher numbers, Market Halls has made the difficult decision that all its sites will remain closed while social distancing remains. As a consequence it is starting a consultation process of redundancy with staff.

Market Halls would not answer a question put to it by Eater on the number of staff affected by this decision.

Chief executive, Andy Lewis-Pratt did say in a statement that it was “heartbreaking to see our business brought to its knees by COVID-19 and the ongoing uncertainty around how we get back to normal.”

He added that he was “desperately sorry for my employees and the independent food traders that make our Market Halls Family so special. We will support them as much as we can and continue to explore all possible opportunities to get us going again.” He insisted that Market Halls “will reopen.”

However the company could not say with any certainty when that time would come. The business was only viable when “bustling with customers,” Lewis-Pratt said. His view was that social distancing “needs to have been withdrawn and workers and shoppers back in the city” before Market Halls could consider returning. The logical conclusion to draw from this is that it will reopen only if and when a vaccine is found and distributed. The company did not say for how long it was permitted to occupy the three premises where it is located or if it had retained their leases.

Nor would the company share any details on the status of traders: whether they were being retained, if they are they under contract, what the nature of trader agreements were — whether all were turnover-percentage based, and whether any had indicated they won’t be returning evening if and when Market Halls reopens.

Lewis-Pratt he wished those reopening this weekend the best of luck, but “what will significantly help all of us is a firm indication of when social distancing will come to an end and, together with the London Mayor, a joint determination to get London safely back to work and its streets busy again.”

As one of its co-signatories, Lewis-Pratt is here echoing the sentiment expressed in an open letter from restaurateurs to the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, which warned against businesses reopening to a “ghost town.” As for the “firm indication” as to when social distancing will come to an end, well, there is nobody qualified to provide that.

Eater has also sought comment from traders within Market Halls.

More soon.