There With You: Meet the stallholders who keep calm and carry on serving customers at Queen’s Market

Stallholder Ahmed at Queen's Market in Green Street, Upton Park. Picture: Friends of Queen's Market

Stallholder Ahmed at Queen's Market in Green Street, Upton Park. Picture: Friends of Queen's Market - Credit: Archant

They used to shout “Pound a bowl!” but now it’s “Two metres!” or “Mind the gap!” as the fruit and vegetable barrow boys keep Queen’s Market going.

All the non-food stores have closed along with fresh food stalls whose owners have vulnerable people in their families. However, small food shops in and around the market in Green Street, Upton Park, remain open for business.

But empty spaces in the market are filling up with an increasing number of customers escaping from supermarket queues.

For stall holders market day is gruelling at the best of times, starting with a 2am visit to the wholesale market –Spitalfields or Billingsgate –then back to set up for a day that lasts till late afternoon or evening.

So what keeps them going? Is it just the money?

“Yes, I am scared of the virus,” said Naveed Choudhury from behind his stall, “but even if I could afford to stay home, I would come along to provide fresh fruit for the community.”

Customer Kerry added: “I am here because my kids have to eat and you can’t get any slots online. I love the market: you can still have a chit-chat at the stalls - while you keep your distance!”

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Dr Ali works as an electronic engineer in the education sector but is helping out the family business, Upton Park Meats at weekends.

“The more of us behind the counter the quicker we can serve our customers. Waiting stresses them out,” he explained.

Rahim Rahimani of Fish at Queens said: “Because the people need the food I am here to serve them.”

Customer Karen Harris spoke for most: “I have lived near Queens Market and shopped there for almost 20 years.

“In these unprecedented times it is reassuring to be able to shop there for fresh fruit and vegetables. Thank you to the traders who are carrying on despite the potential danger to themselves.”

Sasha Laurel, chairman of Friends of Queens Market, added: “You will find some food shops round the market open every day of the week plus stalls on the market days Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Our group exists to promote and protect the market. When all this is over we expect the heroic work of the traders and their assistants to be respected and remembered.”

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