OXFORD’S historic Covered Market faces “unprecedented” upheaval, with roughly one in six businesses looking to sell up.
Traders are blaming a threatened hike in rent costs and competition from the internet.
Of the 58 businesses at the city centre market, 10 are looking to move on.
The latest casualty is The Oxford Boot Store, which is set to close after more than two decades.
The store is part of Macsamillion, which started from a stall in the market in the early 1970s before launching a store in 1975.
Macsamillion chairman Vicki Alder, 50, from Grove, said: “This was not an easy decision to take because this is a family business.
“The rent and the Internet were the two big factors – the city council was asking us for a 40 per cent rent increase in the current negotiations, which is tough when takings have come down.”
Macsamillion runs two Macsamillion stores as well as The Oxford Boot Store.
But ‘closing down’ signs have gone up in the window of the boot store, which opened in the mid-1980s.
The shop will remain trading until the lease is sold, with the two staff redeployed to Macsamillion.
“Perhaps this will be a wake-up call to the council that they could face losing independent traders from the market,” said Ms Alder.
Oxford-based property management company Central Business Agency is now handling the sale of leases.
Partner Stephen Reeves said: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and this is an exceptional period for the Covered Market.
“This is unprecedented – there are a number of traders disenchanted by high rents and other factors.
“We have also been consulted by several other traders about the possibility of selling."
Four of the 10 are to be sold as going concerns, but six are looking to close down. Currently there are no vacant premises at the market, which opened in 1774. The 10 leases have been on the market for the last six to nine months.
Earlier this year it emerged that rent increases faced by traders in the historic market off High Street varied between 40 per cent and 70 per cent, and rents on the shops are being reviewed by landlord Oxford City Council.
Sandie Griffith, a spokesman for the Covered Market Traders’ Association, who runs Jemini flower shop, estimated that up to 30 per cent of total floor space – 27,700sq ft – was for sale.
She added: “A lot of traders are frightened by the latest rent increase being proposed, and I can’t afford to stay here.”
Leases are also up for sale at The Oxford Engraver and children’s clothes shop Two Foot Nothing.
Alex French, 22, assistant manager at the engraving shop, said: “We are facing a 40 per cent rent increase and have already gone down from three units to one.”
The market’s leasing strategy says chains are not generally permitted, and some traders complained when national chain Cards Galore took over the former Palms delicatessen shop earlier this year.
The council says it routinely reviews the rents every five years.
Executive member for city development Colin Cook said: “This situation is not just down to high rents. It’s partly as a result of the age of some traders, who are looking to retire and cash in their chips.
“When rents are assessed for market traders we look at close comparators on the high street.”