A POPULAR stall holder at the Fremantle Markets is fighting back after being given an eviction notice shortly after voicing support for a traders’ association.
Levi Holden has been selling fresh, homemade-style doughnuts at the markets since giving up a career in high-end restaurants over east 10 years ago and has one of the busiest stalls in the markets.
But after noticing ever-increasing rents, lack of cooling systems at the markets and frustrated about not being able to get his five-year lease renewed, Mr Holden got chatting with a business advisor who happened to be a huge fan of his doughnuts.
The advisor, Tom Cockle from Venture Analytics, says after looking into the issue he decided it would be costly and time-consuming for Mr Holden to tackle it alone and suggested they try to reboot a tenants association at the markets.
Early last month Mr Cockle and his business partner Paul Ford hand-delivered a letter to 110 stall holders inviting them to join an association and pointing out that while rents along the Cappuccino Strip have been steadily falling in the last decade, they’ve continued rising at the markets.
“A key aspect of our rent analysis, was the observation of the council head lease terms, where the estimated rents have increased 36 per cent since 2008, while at the same time the retail rents in the South Terrace/Market St Cappuccino strip have actually decreased by 50 per cent plus during the same period,” Venture Analytic’s letter read.
Mr Cockle said the letter didn’t go down well with the Murdoch family, whose company Fremantle Markets Pty Ltd has managed the markets for nearly 40 years.
Two hours later he got a telephone call from FMPL director Jamie Murdoch who told him he was banned for disrupting traders, which was followed by a letter outlining that it would be five years before anyone from Venture Analytics would be allowed back in the markets.
“We were banned for five years for simply sending out a letter inviting traders to join an association,” Mr Cockle told the Herald.
“We don’t understand what we did wrong and why we were treated so harshly.”
Although Mr Holden wasn’t mentioned in the letter, he says 10 days later he was handed an eviction notice by the Murdochs, with no reason given. A personal request, and even letters from his lawyer, haven’t helped shed light on the matter.
“I wasn’t that vocal about the letter, I was just saying I think an association is a great idea, as we can’t confront [management] on our own about issues such as trading hours, the lack of seating for customers, and the fact the market has no cooling system in summer,” Mr Holden said.
With a family of three children under six-years-old, Mr Holden says the eviction notice has been devastating.
“I’ll have no income,” he says back at home in Hamilton Hill, with kids clinging to him and showing off their drawings.
His partner Anna Jackson says that while the markets are only open for three days, they’re long hours, and after the bookkeeping, ordering and organising, Mr Holden was working the equivalent of a full-time job.
They say they moved to Fremantle 10 years ago after researching markets around the country, as he wanted a job that was more family-friendly than being a chef.
But Mr Holden isn’t taking the eviction notice lying down, and last week started up a Change.org petition which has already racked up near 1800 signatures.
Many of those signing the petition cited Levi’s Doughnuts as their only reason for visiting the markets, such as Maggie Petrie.
“My Freo Markets ritual is a blackberry jam doughnut from Levi’s and a coffee from Black Cherries,” Ms Petrie wrote.
“I’ll be too traumatised to return if Levi’s isn’t there.”
Rhiannon Bond said his eviction was un-Freo: “An iconic part of Freo Markets, and if he’s being evicted for having a voice, that’s completely against everything that is amazing about Fremantle.”
Nat Crewe voiced similar sentiments: “Donuts are life. But so is having a voice in your place of work.”
Megan Finlay: “Levi’s Doughnuts are the only reason I go to Freo Markets and I purchase other things while I am there. If [they] are evicted I won’t go out of my way to go to the markets. I know a good number of friends who feel the same.”
Mr Holden also engaged a lawyer who last week had some success, forcing the Murdoch’s to hold off on the eviction and agree to mediation, which is scheduled to take place later this week.
Fremantle Markets CEO Natasha Atkinson wouldn’t reveal why Mr Holden was evicted, but said the company wasn’t aware of his connection to Mr Cockle when the termination notice was given.
She also wouldn’t reveal if there had been any complaints against him or his business, only saying the issue was going to mediation and was a private and confidential matter.
But she denied knowing anything about his desire to have a long-term lease, saying back in 2016 she was on maternity leave and since then he’d never raised it.
“Less than a handful of long-term tenants who have requested renewals of licences have not been renewed over the last few years and that is to ensure we uphold the Fremantle Markets’ values and brand,” Ms Atkinson said.
“In this current retail climate, most of our tenants do not want to commit to a long-term lease.”
Ms Atkinson wouldn’t reveal how many stallholders had asked for extended leases.
“We are constantly re-evaluating rents and currently have a near 100 per cent occupancy,” she said.
“And a recent initiative is that we offer free rents on Fridays (nine stalls available) to encourage small business and to stimulate our local Fremantle economy.”
She said FMPL had reviewed fair market rents, and didn’t believe falling rents elsewhere along the Cappuccino Strip suggested stallholders should get some reductions, as visitor numbers had been shown to rise steadily from 2.49 million in 2015 to 2.64 million in 2017. There was a drop of 400,000 in the following year.
“Fremantle Markets is a well-run business and as such has a significant demand for lettable space.
Mr Atkinson said Mr Cockle had been banned because traders complained about being harassed during peak trading times.
by STEVE GRANT