We visit a Bristol area where traders want the council to invest in ‘the greatest street in the country’

Business owners on St Mark’s Road in Easton have launched a new campaign to ‘fix’ the street
St Mark’s Road in EastonSt Mark’s Road in Easton
St Mark’s Road in Easton

Abdul Malik proudly shows us around the mosque on St Mark’s Road which he and the community have invested in and helped to redevelop over the last decade.

But Malik, who as well as being chair of Easton Jamia Mosque and owner of Pak Butchers, is also calling for Bristol City Council to show the same love and commitment for St Mark’s Road.

The St Mark’s Road Community Group has launched the ‘Six to Fix’ campaign, which is demanding the council addresses problems associated with the potholes, signs, cycle lane, pavements, parking and loading on the street in Easton.

Local businessman and former councillor Malik says ‘not a penny has been spent on’ the street since it received European funding in the late 1980s.

“St Mark’s Road is celebrated in City Hall as the beacon of diversity, somewhere where communities, languages and cultures come together, but truthfully there has been no investment in this,” said Malik, who has lived in Easton his whole life.

“So it really frustrates me that we’re in this position where we have to lobby and campaign to try and get some simple things fixed.”

Off Stapleton Road, St Mark’s Road includes a mosque, church, pub and a myriad of independent businesses including the Bristol Sweet Mart, the biggest supplier of ethnic food and spices in the South West.

Named the best street in the UK in 2019, controversial plans to pedestrianise the road in 2021 were shelved by the council following a community survey.

Businessman Abdul Malik has lived in Easton all his lifeBusinessman Abdul Malik has lived in Easton all his life
Businessman Abdul Malik has lived in Easton all his life

Malik explained: “People like myself campaigned and explained that it wasn’t going to be the best thing for the road because of the wholesale trade especially with the Bristol Sweet Mart, my butchers and other places.”

Launched earlier in October, the Six to Fix campaign aims to ‘shine a spotlight on the pressing concerns that have been swept under the rug for too long’.

On potholes, Malik said: “There’s been several instances of people getting jammed and stuck in these.”

“There’s been numerous occasions where pedestrians have tripped and hurt themselves,” he added about the pavement.

The businessman also said there should be signs celebrating the street as a destination: “There should be signposts to St Mark’s Road, on the road it should be clearly visible this is a place we’re all proud of.”

And he is calling for timed parking or a new car park for the nearby Stapleton Road train station: “There’s a train station and people park their cars here as a car park and then just go get a train.”

Malik also thinks there should be a dedicated loading area for customers who want to buy in bulk and deliveries, alongside an improved cycle lane.

“St Mark’s Road is the greatest street in the country,” he continued. “We know that, the council knows that and anybody that visits this area knows how this street is just a beacon of hope.

“The major thing we have to realise is that there is no certain future for high streets, so we have to make sure that whatever we got, we protect it.”

Bristol Sweet Mart

A staple of St Mark’s Road is the Bristol Sweet Mart, which has been running since 1978.

Run by the four Majothi brothers, who took over the business from their Ugandan-Asian refugee father, the grocery shop and deli stocks 12,000 products from all over the world.

“I feel my parents played a big part in reviving this area,” said Rashid Majothi from his office above the shop, which has been described as the ‘Aladdin’s cave of foods’.

“It was a no-go area, nobody wanted to live here except if you didn’t have a choice, it had a bad reputation.

“Today, it’s completely changed,” he added. “Easton is a beautiful place, it’s the people who make it.

“We’ve been here for 45 years now and I love it because it’s got a nice feel to it; people mix with one another, people from different backgrounds, different religions.”

Bristol Sweet Mart has been running since 1978Bristol Sweet Mart has been running since 1978
Bristol Sweet Mart has been running since 1978

The shop sells more than 100 types of chilli sauce and spice among its products, with customers coming from as far as London and Leicester.

But Majothi admits trade has been“challenging” with the cost-of-living and people struggling.

“Theft is on the increase. We’ve got to be twice as careful and our margins are a lot less.

“You’ve got to have a passion for what you do. If it’s just about making money, it will be tough. We’ve had the pandemic, we’ve been through quite a lot, it’s been challenging times.”

On the now-dropped pedestrianisation proposals for St Mark’s road, Majothi said this would have forced the business to relocate.

“It would have made us relocate because we’re a family-run, small business.

“For us to be able to survive we have to buy goods in bulk, we can’t have somebody come on a push bike or in a small van and deliver.

“The only way we can do it is by buying volume so we can give people good value for money and we do a lot of products.”

A member of the St Mark’s Road Community Group, Majothi said he “totally supports” the Six to Fix campaign.

“We’re not asking for the impossible, we’re talking about things that are safe.

“If you look at the amount of new scooters on the road and the potholes, that is a danger, an accident waiting to happen.”

He continued: “What matters at the end of the day are community businesses. Give me one place in the whole country that has achieved something like St Mark’s Road in Bristol.

“We want to make it better for all of us, we’re here to stay and the same goes for our customers.”

East Bristol Bakery opened on St Mark’s Road in 2012East Bristol Bakery opened on St Mark’s Road in 2012
East Bristol Bakery opened on St Mark’s Road in 2012

East Bristol Bakery

In the East Bristol Bakery on St Mark’s Road, the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air.

Head baker Sanjay Patel, who’s only been in post a few months, admits the road could “do with a little bit of care”.

“The road’s a bit beat up,” said Patel, who lives on North Street in Bedminster.

“This side street is where our bins are kept but there’s been a couple of times people have dumped stuff out on the street and it’s been left there for a while.

“Considering the love that is generally here and put in, I feel there could be a bit more reflecting of that on the street.”

East Bristol Bakery opened on St Mark’s Road in October 2012, opening a second site at Wapping Wharf in December 2022.

On pedestrianisation, Patel admits there’s two sides to the debate: “It makes it nice and safe, lovely to walk down but at the same time I know somebody like Sweet Mart would have a really big issue with that because they have a lot of deliveries; the same with us, that would be a real problem for us.

“I’ve already got trouble with one delivery place that won’t come and deliver here because it’s so narrow.”

Long-term, Patel would like to see St Mark’s Road receive the same level of investment as other streets in the city.

He said: “I live on North Street and that street is nice, it wasn’t always that way, but they’ve made a lot of changes over time.

“Just look at some of these buildings and shops, they’re a bit tatty. I just wonder if it could do with a bit of investment, just to help small businesses.”

New opening

Bahram Ehsas’ business on St Mark’s Road will be the newest on the street when it opens later in the year.

Work is underway on the cafe which will serve authentic Asian chai using Ehsas’ own unique recipes, alongside food options.

“I lived in Bristol for a year and St Mark’s Road was a place I frequented because of Bristol Sweet Mart and Pak Butchers, said Ehsas, who has previously run a chai cafe in Barcelona for two years.

“I always found that this area had a community presence that I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

“I lived in Clifton for a little bit and for a place that ‘s quite well-established, it didn’t have that community feel that this area has and this road specifically has.

“I had this close connection with the street already and seeing that community around it made it even more enticing.”

Bahram Ehsas’ business on St Mark’s Road will be the newest on the streetBahram Ehsas’ business on St Mark’s Road will be the newest on the street
Bahram Ehsas’ business on St Mark’s Road will be the newest on the street

On the state of St Mark’s Road, Ehsas, who is also known as the Chai Guy, says there are positives and negatives.

“The positives being the strong community, the businesses working together, everybody feels they have a part to play and noticing the mosque and church down the road have a core presence in the neighbourhood and community.”

The street hosts events such as Eid Fest and the Grand Iftar.

Ehsas also says the road has its downsides which shouldn’t exist, including the bookies shop.

“Ladbrokes is a toxic thing for a community that works really well together, it works against what community means.

“Outside of that, seeing the lack of investment from the council in the area makes you feel unseen.

“The most investment I see is from us in the community. I see others doing a lot for the area and for each other, and I think it’s the duty of the council to do as much, if not more, for an area like this that has a heart and soul to it.”

Bristol City Council declined to comment.