The Manning Market is over a 100 years old – making it “the oldest market and economic center in the country”! (Courtesy: Daily Mirror LK)
So why not use the term ‘legendary’, right?
No one knows the exact year of establishment but vendors such as Gamini Handunge – one of the oldest traders of the market – say this is how old the market is. Initially, the market began with 301 stalls behind the ‘Kachcheri’ in Bodhiraja Mawatha, Pettah (People’s Park). In the 1970s, there were plans to shift the market to Orugodawatta but during the presidency reign of Sir R. Premadasa, trading activities were shifted temporarily to Pettah. This is when the market moved to a storeroom built during the era of Governor Manning (1918-1925) – in Olcott Mawatha, Pettah.
The market then went from being called ‘Kachcheri Road Market’ to ‘Manning Food Store’; and then ‘Manning Market’ just became easier. Several attempts were made to rename the area as the “New Market” but people somehow could not forget the ‘Manning Market’!
Starting out in Pettah, the place where it all initially began was once a sugar warehouse during the British colonial era – according to vendors at Manning. The crumbling colonial architecture, cobblestones and large brickwork is proof that the structure is over a hundred years old and has gone through absolutely no refurbishment since then. About 3 acres in size, the warehouse is constructed with steel beams, hardy wood, cobblestone flooring and large brickwork.
Pettah is a trading zone in central Colombo where almost anything and everything can be found. Whether you are looking for currency exchange to second hand bookstores to textiles to stationers, the marketplace is sprawling with wholesale and retail dealers. And with the Manning Market being located in Pettah, practically everyone headed there for grocery shopping for many many years.
Once the epicenter in Colombo for suppliers and buyers, the popularity of Manning Market as a sole provider of fresh products has decreased.
At present, this wholesale vegetables market has its peak operating hours from 4.00a.m. to 12noon. The market is open till evening but customers are lesser after mid-day as compared to 10 years ago when the crowd was in and out until 7.00p.m. The main reason being that the retail market has died down now due to the parking issues and more convenient facilities coming up. Hence only the wholesale market is actively purchasing from the Manning Market.
Over the years, with the floating market coming up, the fish market being relocated to Peliyagoda, the establishment of more and more convenient supermarkets, the ever-expanding high rises in Colombo city pushing out older structures for space, the number of people visiting Pettah has been on the decline. Vendors at the Manning Market are now finding it difficult to provide for their families with just the profits made from selling groceries.
Colombo is now becoming really crowded as a result of the newer establishments, and busy marketplaces like the Manning Market is highly affected because there is no place for people to park and shop, and the preservation of the warehouse has been absolutely neglected. Storage space is very minimal and lorries have no place to park and unload goods.
In 2016, the government decided to shift the Manning Market from Pettah to Peliyagoda. Construction has begun at the new place but it is not complete yet.
According to vendors, whoever is buying up the old place will be lucky because everything could be repurposed and was significantly valuable. Although the area is only 3 acres in size, the property values over billions of rupees.
Optimistic vendors are happy because they believe Peliyagoda will become the next developed commercial hub. Compared to the 3 acres in Pettah, the Manning Market relocation will result in a 25 acre area being allocated for this purpose. Clients of the Manning who purchase wholesale products will still stick around.