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13th May 2023

Bury Market: Traditionally untraditional

Bury Market is thriving in the age of online retailing. It boasts an eclectic mix of traditional marketplace staples along with a wave of temporary stalls celebrating the Hong Kong Food Festival.
Bury Market: Traditionally untraditional
Bury Market – Photo: Maddy Orenstein @ The Mancunion

For unfamiliar readers, Bury Market is situated an hour away from Manchester Piccadilly. If that doesn’t ring any bells, it was the winner of Britain’s Favourite Market Award in 2019. Having spent the best part of four hours wandering through the market and its temporary Hong Kong food festival, I can say with certitude that I see why.

The marketplace is a caucus for many local shoppers, vendors, and individuals who have frequented it since childhood. Their comfort amongst each other is palpable, with fondness exuding in their speech through familial, jocular tones. Against the backdrop of this established market, the Hong Kong food vendors seamlessly fit in amongst the local shoppers, with their stalls bringing in vibrant colours amid the more conventional shop fronts.

My personal favourites include Chadwick’s Bury Black Puddings and its neighbourly competitor, The Bury Black Pudding Company. While these stalls seem to be an ode to the steadfast nature of British markets, the new vendors were nonetheless welcomed with open arms.

At first glance, Bury Market appears to be an unassuming haphazard compilation of storefronts. However, the deeper into the heart of the market I ventured, I realised that there was order amid the chaos. The market was constructed like a labyrinth, which made it all the more compelling.

The outskirts were open-air, with hotdog grills and marijuana paraphernalia stalls standing shoulder to shoulder, enticing customers with the smells of charring sausages and the colours of stained glass pipes. “Just for decoration,” winked the stall holder when he noticed my glances.

Hong Kong barbecue stand – Photo: Maddy Orenstein @ The Mancunion

One stall that was gaining particular attention was a Hong Kong barbecue grill. The skewers were charring on an open flame, spitting oil and fat while the outer skin of the chicken turned a delicious shade of brown, interrupted with the blackened crispy flakes of scorched meat.

Next to the grill stood various bottles of marinade which, when added to the flesh of the meat, emulsified with the oils to emit sweet and smoky aromas. The trademark scent of Chinese five spice mingled with the acidic nodes of rice wine. It was enough to make a pescatarian such as myself question my lifestyle choices and consider indulging in a moment of cardinal sin. Instead, I moved away from temptation, helped along by the suggestive nudge of shoulder blades in my back, courtesy of the queue of wide-eyed, ravenous customers.

Grace Liu’s Hong Kong tea stall – Photo: Maddy Orenstein @ The Mancunion

At the next stall, I met Grace Liu who co-managed a Hong Kong-style tea business with her husband. Before moving to Bury, Grace was a TV producer in Hong Kong. When I found them, the pair were packing up for the day at 2pm. “This is our first time at Bury Market, and we’ve already sold out!” She spoke to me with a look of bewilderment. Grace added with a bashful smile that she was enjoying the lifestyle change that accompanied the move to Manchester. Despite their immense transpacific journey away from their home and the comfort and familiarity that it provided, Grace Liu and her husband seemed to be thriving in their new environment.

Throughout the day I remained poignantly aware that food and grocery markets now represent one of the fastest declining sectors in the UK. While some businesses rely on their loyal customer base, others seem to be adapting to fit the demands of an increasingly modernised society.

Indeed, Grace Liu’s company poster boasted a plethora of social media accounts whose modest following showed promise of a budding online presence. Not every stall utilised this strategy, as I walked past both Chadwick’s Bury Black Puddings and The Bury Black Pudding Company, I was unsurprised to see no evidence of an online presence.

I suppose some products don’t translate as easily to the world of mass-marketed media, although I’m sure black-pudding enthusiasts would argue otherwise. This union of techniques with the more contemporary methods of younger sellers shows the grit and tenacity of market vendors as they fight daily against a tide of online shopping.

On leaving the market I became aware of a certainty; while online shopping is indeed the modal form of retail, in my eyes Bury market and its cultural milieu will remain unrivalled.

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