U-Juice founder JP Martinez has quit the Bull Ring Indoor Market after slamming Birmingham City Council over “high service charges for no service.”
Already reeling from lockdown and storm damage on the day the market reopened in mid-June, the businessman said his health could no longer tolerate the market for a day longer.
The site of the three current Bull Ring Markets – including the Open Air and Rag Market immediately next door – dates back more than 850 years.
But with less than two years to go before the Commonwealth Games, Mr Martinez claimed problems on the market included “floods, infestations, broken and dirty loos, rodents not being removed quickly even when dead, working temperatures of more than 30C during heatwaves and uncovered meat being placed close to fruit and vegetables.”
Mr Martinez added: “We are paying high service charges for no service.
“I’ve been taking photographs and videos for years and the market is filthy.
“Its condition is an embarrassment to Birmingham City Council and in a total state of disrepair.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “The Markets Service ensures that there is a programme of continuous cleaning, pest control and maintenance of the Indoor Market.
“Traders are responsible for maintenance, cleaning and pest control within their own units.
“We see traders on a daily basis and more formally through liaison meetings. These contacts provide communication channels that highlight any areas of concern and ensure we tackle them quickly.
“We are sorry that Mr Martinez has chosen to leave the market and he has raised various matters with us.
“Given that we are currently looking into these matters it would not be appropriate to comment further.”
The final straw
Mr Martinez decided his last day of trading would be on Wednesday, August 26 and he is now planning to open a new shop unit close to Birmingham Cathedral.
He launched U-Juice after being made redundant at Selfridges and his celebrity customers have included Alexandra Burke.
Based in Newtown, he calls himself a “Markets Warrior” for his belief in their ability to offer personal service with a passion and to provide quality products at the right price.
“People at the council think I’m aggressive for the way I’ve gone about using social media to try to get them to improve the market,” he says.
“They could not be more mistaken.
“I am not aggressive. I am just very passionate about what I do – and angry, very angry, about what they’ve done to me and my business.”
Mr Martinez began trading on the Indoor Market in 2015 in what he thought would be one of the best pitches – facing Edgbaston Street and Debenhams on the other side.
But he claims that even the windows – which gave him the kind of daylight missing from much of the rest of the 20-year-old building – were a source of problems.
During our visit to his closed stall on September 8, he said marks on the glass were fly droppings and he showed me where he’d filmed water pouring in on wet days above some electrics.
On the day the market reopened on Tuesday, June 16, Mr Martinez broadcast himself on Facebook Live trying to cope after the area around his stall had flooded during a storm.
The previous day he had been filmed by BBC Midlands Today to promote the market.
Mr Martinez said he had repeatedly photographed and videoed instances of where the market’s standards were below what he considered to be acceptable.
In a video interview with BirminghamLive recorded outside of the market, Mr Martinez said: “I feel very disappointed and let down by Birmingham City Council.
“The last six years have been very stressful.
“I’m very thankful to the council for putting me where I am today, but the lack of support we have received before and after the pandemic has been absolutely disgraceful.
“I feel heartbroken, I’m devastated, I’ve been having sleepless nights and it’s just not fair the way I’ve been treated and other traders in the market – we feel totally overlooked.
“The government promised to help small businesses and we feel they haven’t helped us whatsoever.”
While other councils have given traders discounts to help them to keep going during periods of lower footfall, Birmingham City Council has not.
Mr Martinez said: “We’ve all been given bills since we returned and it’s been nigh on impossible for us to make that kind of money.
“You would have thought the council, being a government body, would have helped us with our rent.
“But they are not interested, I haven’t seen them.
“All I’ve seen is a couple of hygiene measures that have been put in place, but that’s it.”
On the day we visited, it appeared a third of customers inside the market were not wearing masks even though signs asked them to.
Mr Martinez added: “I don’t think there’s really been any enforcement put in place on the market.
“They did for the first couple of weeks on the initial reopening.
“But then after that it was a case they didn’t care.
“You didn’t see any market customer service officers, you didn’t see any management.
“They’ve not even done a checklist with all the traders and you can clearly see there are a lot of people in here who are not Covid-19 compliant which is really disappointing.”
Generations of family-run businesses have been calling for more investment in recent years.
When they returned from lockdown, they were told they would have to pay full rent, even though footfall was down and other councils in the Midlands were offering discounts.
In May, BirminghamLive revealed how butcher Alan Docherty had even made his own son redundant after deciding to close down in March after long questioning how long the Bull Ring Indoor Market could survive
“Many people don’t even know how to drive to the Indoor Market after what the council has done to the roads – so will older people want to back there now in the current climate?” said Mr Docherty.
“The market itself has now become a horrible environment and the council is partly to blame – I’ve been paying more than £100,000 to them per year for more than 20 years.”