HUNDREDS of demonstrators staged a loud and lively protest in support of traders at Leeds's iconic Corn Exchange.
Many of the 300-strong group of protesters were the teenagers who use the Corn Exchange as a weekend meeting place. Some had brought along homemade placards or leaflets opposing proposals to turn the exchange into an upmarket food emporium.
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There were chants of "Save the Corn Exchange," and "We Shall Not Be Moved," from the crowds gathered on the exchange's steps.
Katie Middleton, 14, of Rothwell, Leeds, said: "This is the only place in Leeds you get local, individual shops selling things you won't find everywhere else. The atmosphere is really great. Even if the shops are moved to different places in Leeds they won't be together any more, it just won't be the same."
Lauren Aldus, 13, from Kippax, Leeds, said: "I come here most weekends to meet my friends. It is proper local, they'll lose that if it changes."
Among Saturday's protesters were two doctors from the University of Leeds's geography department, Robert Vanderbeck and Sara Gonzalez.
Dr Gonzalez said: "We don't want to see this place gentrified, it is one of the few places left that is not."
The building's stallholders and tenants, who have been told their leases will not be renewed, wouldn't talk to the Press or join the protest. Those approached by the Yorkshire Evening Post said they feared sanctions from the exchange's management if they went public with their views.
But one businesswoman, who asked not to be named, said: "I am absolutely delighted that the people of Leeds are standing up for individuality in their city. They are not going to let the big companies walk in and dictate what sort of shops they can shop in."
Nobody from leaseholders Zurich Assurance was available for comment at the time of going to press. The company had previously said it would be speaking to remaining tenants to work out how they could fit them in to the new-style venue.
Late last month, Central Retail, which will market the venue to potential tenants, said the new-look exchange would be a "central destination for premium dining, food and drink."
A spokesman for Zurich Assurance, which leases the building, said in a statement: "The Corn Exchange has been an integral part of the fabric of Leeds since it was built in 1861. The landlord is committed to maintain this heritage and secure the long term future of The Corn Exchange as a successful retail destination in the city centre and in doing so has recently undertaken a 1.5 million repair programme to restore the building to its former glory.
"The Corn Exchange as it currently stands has been underperforming for some time and the existing proposition has become unviable. For this reason a number of tenants have been given an opportunity to vacate.
"The landlord has and continues to act in a responsible and professional manner with regard to its contractual agreements and its obligations.
"The craft fair will continue until January 2008 as the landlord recognizes that this is an important trading period for stall holders."