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London: First Impressions Story

Rain-drenched tourists wandered through the market stalls, some stopping to peer over the handcrafted goods with keen eyes. Others voiced their obvious distaste for the cold and rainy day in the London neighborhood of Camden Town.

The rain pitter-pattered as the sound of squeaky shoes echoed through the market. Several of the vendors reassured the sour tourists that Camden Town is not usually as dreary. On the contrary, on a beautiful sunny day, the market can be seen with buzzing locals and tourists, making it a wonderful outing when the weather’s nice. The soaked tourists smiled forcefully as they continued through the market, barely glancing at the remaining tables.

“Earrings, one for £8. Two for £15,” called out Francesca Campurra, a local Camden vendor.

Campurra smiled as she pointed to her handcrafted FOMI clay earrings displayed on the table. Delicately crafted emoji, Harry Potter, Tim Burton, and Studio Ghibli themed jewelry sits atop the burlap-covered table.

Campurra is one of the many local vendors who display their crafts at the popular Camden Markets. These artists make a living working here and have been doing so since the market first opened in 1974.

“I’ve been here for more or less than four years, Camden is one of the most attractive places in London, it’s a good way to show my art,” said Campurra.

Camden Town is famous for its eclectic mix of markets, cuisines, and live music venues. It has been a residential area to its locals since the 1790s. The small neighborhood is bordered by the popular London parks of Primrose Hill and Regent's Park. It is bisected by a canal that runs through the neighborhood and was used back in the day to transport gin throughout London, which became the backbone of Camden Town’s economy.

Today, Camden Town has become a second home to the vendors of the market, a tight knit community where everyone knows everyone and calls each other family. The locals are always aware of what’s going on in the neighborhood thanks to the Camden New Journal, a local newspaper that gets delivered to the market weekly.

“People here are very liberal and open, the vibes here are chill, very sort of multicultural with different nationalities and different people,” music print vendor Helena Krantz said. “From punk to rock to hip-hop, you can find any music in Camden,” she said.

Camden’s music scene has become an increasingly popular fixture in London. Musicians such as Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody and the late Amy Winehouse have called Camden Town their home. Their impact can be seen throughout the community with Winehouse’s tribute statue and the numerous notes and photographs dotting the walls of local pubs such as the Hawley Arms, where many locals and musicians can be seen bumping arms.

“Throughout my years bartending, I’ve seen plenty of pissed (drunk) musicians in here and I’ve seen probably every American I.D. come through these doors,” Connor Boyles, The Hawley Arms bartender, said.

Although during the day Camden seems like a safe and chill neighborhood, once it hits after dark, the safety hurries away. With little street lighting, this borough puts on a different vibe at night as many drunks and homeless people wander. After dark, local drug dealers stand on every street corner and attempt to sell marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drugs.

“They stopped doing certain things in Camden, obviously because of more restrictions since they use to advertise a lot of things to do with cannabis-related drugs and you can’t even buy that now ‘cause it’s illegal,” D’jhélissa Launay, a Camden Brewery waitress, said.

Although drugs and other illicit activities are a big concern in Camden Town, the market has begun to feel other pressures such as commercialization in the area. This issue has forced many vendors to close up their storefronts in recent years.

“The market has changed more into a touristic area, a very commercialized area, and people don’t appreciate that… people coming from different origins, from different states of life and they expect a certain quality of a service or the way a market is supposed to look. It’s a market! You’re not coming into a palace,” Mihaela Hinov, a vendor for Camden Tea Company said.

As the market faces big possibilities of change, local vendors and craftsmen are still holding onto the authenticity of Camden Town and all that the neighborhood has to offer. The diverse groups of people, the music and the unique history of this neighborhood make up the Camden we know today. The town welcomes you with open arms as you walk through the open-aired market and along the quiet canal.


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