After 14 years of running a Friday market in Crown Street Mall, friends and business partners Jenny Briscoe-Hough and Lara Seresin have lost their bid to continue operating the popular venture.
Instead, after a public quotation process, Wollongong City Council has handed the Friday market licence over to the businesswoman behind the Foragers franchise, Kirrily Sinclair.
Ms Briscoe-Hough and Ms Seresin were “stunned” and “heartbroken” to learn of the council’s decision this week.
The pair started their business, the Friday Produce and Creative Markets, in 2002 when “no one believed us” that the venture would be a success.
The markets have now become so successful that the council credits them with attracting more than 4000 people to the mall each Friday.
While the two women were saddened that their 14 year enterprise will come to an end, they are determined to run one last market this Friday to thank stallholders and customers.
“Our market broke new ground and I’m so proud of what we achieved,” Ms Briscoe-Hough said.
“We put something there that wasn’t there, and now it’s unthinkable that it wouldn’t be there. We hope all our friends and community will join us on Friday.”
The council decided to open the markets up to public quotations earlier this year, introducing strict new rules – and higher prices – for the market operators.
In a media release, Wollongong council said there were four submissions to run the Friday Produce and Creative Markets, and three submissions for the night food markets – known as Eat Street..
Economic development manager Mark Grimson said the submissions were “of a high calibre and were assessed by a panel against eight criteria”.
“Based on a fair and transparent procurement process, the council has entered into a licence agreement with Kirrily Sinclair to manage both the Thursday night markets and Friday creative and produce markets,” he said.
Ms Sinclair, who now runs three markets in Wollongong with her Foragers franchise, said she was humbled to have been given the contract for both markets.
“I can understand that it would be hard to lose something you’ve created – I would have been in the same boat with Eat Street – but these markets are now council assets because they’re on council land,” she said.
The new Friday markets will be called Friday Forage, and Ms Sinclair said the mix of stallholders would eventually change to meet the council’s new targets for local stallholders.
“We’re going to take it easy and work with the existing stallholders, but also give opportunities to other businesses who might want to get involved,” she said.
Mr Grimson said the council’s criteria for assessing the markets were aligned with council’s new mall Activity Policy that would “deliver a strong sense of place for the community and other stakeholders”.
“Our new licence agreements will ensure the composition of stallholders delivers a mix that supports local and start-up businesses, provides diverse and new offerings for visitors and, crucially, does not take away from the offering provided by our existing retailers,” Mr Grimson said.
Wollongong City Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said all operators using council land and facilities were subject to review.
“We need to continually renew our contractual and licencing arrangements on community and council managed sites therefore when they expire or need updating we are obliged to undertake this process,” he said.
He praised the Friday markets for “activating” the city and attracting up to 4,000 people a day to Crown Street Mall.