Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Provence: night markets, the last hope of artisans

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On summer evenings, the night markets in Provence fill up with all kinds of artisans’ stalls. On the ports of the Mediterranean or in the alleys of Provence, it is the hour when passers-by wander between colorful artisanal soaps, old books, the smells of nougat and macaroons, bags and the tinkle of handmade jewelry. All under the starry sky of the south of France. But this year the atmosphere is a little different. Even morose, some will say.

The majority of artisans have noticed a drop in attendance at night markets, especially during the week, where some sometimes regret to come. The lack of tourists has deeply affected their activity, and the local population cannot fill this void. Some also complain about safety measures, and above all about wearing a mask, which, according to them, only complicates the lives of customers. The atmosphere is therefore not at the party.

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Town halls at the bedside of traders

To make life easier for artisans and designers, the city of Martigues has decided to set up an “à la carte” registration system, which does not require them to be present every week: “It’s very random, they come when they can ”, explains the representative of the town hall. “The concept has changed a bit,” she adds, particularly with regard to the directions of movement, in order to obtain a more open space and to promote the fluidity of passers-by. The number of exhibitors has been reduced to about twenty, for “a more qualitative market”, says the town. In Fos-sur-Mer, the number of exhibitors has also been reduced, from around 35 to around 20. And priority was therefore given to the oldest. The size of the stands has also been limited to five meters to respect social distancing as much as possible. Attendance is obviously down, especially during the week, with a much more local audience, explains the tourist office. Who adds that the priority remains to “make the traders work”.

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Other municipalities have chosen to expand the space of the market, in order to always accommodate the same number of exhibitors while respecting social distancing. This is the case in Sanary-sur-Mer, where, again, they say they want to make craftsmen work, to help them earn a living. At Salon-de-Provence, the number of exhibitors is even on the rise. The markets, and in particular the night markets, are indeed among the only events still to take place. Craftsmen therefore come from afar to work there.

Craftsmen hit hard

Pauline Ber, creator of Saule Cosmétique, came to the Salon-de-Provence night market for the second year in a row. The young woman, based in Carpentras, has created a range of natural cosmetic products, which she has decided to sell in four markets in Bouches-du-Rhône this summer. She hopes to meet customers and retain them by then directing them to her site. But she notes, disappointed, that the number of visitors has dropped significantly and that they are becoming more timid in their purchases. “They buy less, the average basket is smaller. “The same goes for Sabrina Labado, jewelry designer:” Some of my clients have not come at all because they are afraid to go out. “A lot of events have been canceled,” she adds, “so we are trying to fill this gap by looking for all possible opportunities, ephemeral stores for example. Fortunately, he still has orders through his website, “to save the furniture.”

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Frane Pannetier, based in Arles, runs the company that bears her name: Les Macarons de Frane. It wholesale manufactures and supplies macaroons and other delicacies to many trade shows, fairs and festivals. But with the cancellation of many of these events, the night markets act as a last resort: “It’s catastrophic, everything is canceled, only that remains. She estimates that she lost 80% of her turnover compared to last year. And its production has increased from 500 to 30 kilos per week.

In Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the Tuesday night creators’ night market “has nothing to do with last year”, admits the Alpilles tourist office. The audience has changed: many more French people, a few Belgians and Germans, and no more Americans, very present last year. “There are no tourists! »Exclaims Valérie Beauquis, designer of bags and jewelry, for whom the summer markets represent half of her turnover. She has also found that many vacationers come for a short period, rarely more than a week, and have a more limited budget. The few events in which she was able to participate force her to do a lot of kilometers. Based in Nîmes, she travels regularly to Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône or Var. In short, a lot of travel to try to get some income.

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Hopes and frustrations

During confinement, Pauline, Valérie, Sabrina and Frane were able to count on the aid granted to the independents, in the amount of 1,500 euros, until June. Despite everything, Pauline knows that she will have “no salary this year”, she explains, a little annoyed. She remains optimistic all the same: “We earn less, but we are doing well, and we are happy to have started working again. »Frane is more critical: this sum allowed her to cover certain expenses, but remains insufficient for her taste. And to add: “There are too many restrictions. “So much so that she saw several of her colleagues decide to change careers, to take” permanent jobs “.

But not all are unhappy. Lucie Bidart, creator of zero waste articles, is rather satisfied with her confinement. A seamstress, she has been very busy making masks, in addition to orders from a few clients. “I thought it was going to be a disaster, but I’m happy. The masks helped a lot too. And it’s nice to work in these conditions. This summer, she is participating in the night market in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where she is also satisfied with the situation. Before adding: “It’s a special year. There is a little tension among craftsmen for fear of not making enough money, and among customers, who are sometimes afraid because of the Covid. »And if Valérie Beauquis finds it unpleasant to wear a mask during hot weather, she wants to avoid slacking off so as not to have to undergo a new period of crisis. Especially since artisans are already starting to register for Christmas markets: “You have to be responsible, or many companies will have to go out of business. “

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