No room at the Inn – Lions Bethlehem Market is moved on


New owners of the Bethlehem Shopping Centre are moving the Lions organised Bethlehem Market off it’s two weekly carpark site and a new market home is being sought.

When I first started driving down from Auckland to Tauranga I eventually stopped coming through the fabulous (if then adrenalin roaded) Karangahake Gorge – why? Bethlehem was a total roading nightmare – the roundabout was being put in and it was rocks and dust for ever. The Patetonga straight had never looked so good.

On my residential arrival I started shopping at the Bethlehem Countdown – that’s until one Christmas an unusually non-customer focused human being on the deli section told me I wasn’t allowed that sliced ham – I was only allowed to buy that sliced ham. Yeah right? Pakn’save had never looked so good! But I was drawn back to the shopping centre by the Lions Market and their covered spaces for the display and sale of art; more recently to write about the market and Bethlehem and finally to have a stall in the Market’s final days.

I’m downsizing, decluttering or as so clearly stated by another of my Australia-bound off-spring “Who’s going to get rid of all this when you die?” Remembering what it was like moving from my former home of 25years and the trips to the Salvos and the sad, sad final cleansing fire in the paddock; I started over the Christmas break remembering, sorting and discarding. It was only last year I parted with my first pair of ballet shoes.

I suppose for some of the formal tenants of the Bethlehem Shopping Centre having the market show up every two weeks is like having an adolescent male Goth come to stay twice a month.. There’s that underlying lack of understanding, quiet distaste (a male with black painted fingernails?) and an inexplicable fear that your nephew may do “something” – quite what you can’t define. I don’t have a Goth nephew but I understand why the formal tenants would now wish the market gone.

As for the new owners, Canadians I’m told. I suppose that means a Canadian based organisation? They have development plans for the Bethlehem Shopping Centre. They’ve bought it, they own it and so they can do with it what they want to. The homemade poster I put up on the infobordz notice board at the Whakamarama Store flashes into my brain. I made it to oppose the sale of further agricultural land to non-resident owners. That’s anybody that’s not living here. You can be ethnically anything (and in the next few years probably Martian) and live here and be a New Zealander and buy land but if you don’t live here you shouldn’t be able to take over New Zealand located land and assets.

Then the Market’s removal from its site reminds me of an evening at a service club in another town. The speaker represented a trust or foundation established by Sir Stephen Tindall and/or The Warehouse organisation. The well presented articulate woman representative extolled its virtues and the good that was being done. At question time a grizzled, longtime senior member of our rural community, borne blue and dyed in the wool blue politely asked the woman to comment on the negative retail and societal changes in small town New Zealand occasioned by the development of big-box retail. That was not her mandate.

Why bring this up? In the early days of the Bethlehem Shopping Centre, with its array of untenanted shops and lack of vibe or personality, the Market brought in the people from around the district and the Waikato. They poked around the Market, looked at the art, artcraft, artisan created products, bought bits and pieces and then they toddled off to Countdown and shopped or popped into one of the cafes for a coffee and a bite to eat. The Market was a promotional tool for the shopping centre. The Market has developed so that it’s now a well-known tourist attraction as well as an economic outlet for local artisans, creatives and residents.

When I was told the Market was leaving I wondered if the Canadian buyers were aware of the contribution the Market had made to “their” shopping centre. I also wondered if anyone from the purchasing organisation had visited the Lion’s Market. I also wondered if they knew the role of the Market for many. At street level and grass-roots level there isn’t an abundance of paid work in the Tauranga area and many of the Market stallholders rely on weekly takings either as primary or supplementary income. Don’t underestimate or discount the local economic value of the market.

Whoever gets the Bethlehem Market will get an amazing moneymaker. If I were a local school I’d want it as a regular. If I were the local territorial authorities I’d be doing my utmost to assist the Lions Bethlehem Market into another venue for its contribution directly and indirectly to the regional economy and tourist attraction palette. While the Bethlehem Market was never a “flea market” but a village market I leave you with this quote from a wonderful book I inadvertently picked up in my last haul from the fabulous Tauranga City Library; “Flea Market Fabulous” by Lara Spencer

“Paris is home to the Marche aux Puces de Saint Ouen – Europe’s

largest flea market – which welcomes up to 180,000 visitors every


Rosemary Balu


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