Wapping Wharf traders report big drop in business since river bridge closure

‘I would say business has dropped 20-30% since the bridge closed so we are just weathering the storm’

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“We just feel so powerless,” says Rozzy Turner, owner of Clifton Seafood Company, a fishmongers occupying a shipping container behind the M-Shed in Bristol’s harbourside area.

We’re talking about the dramatic drop in people visiting this once busy area of Wapping Wharf since the closure of the Gaol Ferry foot and cycle bridge at the end of August 2022.

It’s Saturday lunchtime in the first week of January and there is barely a soul to be seen in this usually busy part of Bristol’s Harbourside.

Rozzy’s fishmongers has been open four years and although she says December was a good month for her due to Christmas fish and seafood orders, trade overall has dipped dramatically since the bridge closed.

“I would say business has dropped 20-30% since the bridge closed so we are just weathering the storm,” says Rozzy.

“I didn’t actually think it was going to affect me too much because we’re more of a destination shop and people come here to get fish anyway and we don’t rely on footfall as much as some of the other businesses in Wapping Wharf.”

Since 2017 Wapping Wharf has grown into one of Bristol’s most popular shopping and hospitality destinations.

Housed in several converted shipping containers, it has become a food and drink hub, as well as home to several local independent retail businesses.

But since the closure of the Gaol Ferry foot and cycle bridge, footfall is down considerably and businesses are worried as empty units start to appear.

Last week, family-run ice cream shop Olivers closed its doors, the latest casualty in a challenging time for small businesses.

The closure of the bridge connecting south Bristol with Wapping Wharf is to carry out essential repairs and although the initial estimate was for it to take around nine months, many business owners are now worried it might not reopen this side of the summer.

People living in Southville and Bedminster now have to use Vauxhall Bridge or Bedminster Bridge, which can add 15-20 minutes to the journey.

Many residents south of the river simply aren’t bothering, preferring to shop and visit cafes and restaurants closer to home in the North Street area instead.

Rozzy says: “As well as the bridge, there are other factors like the cost of living, people spending less generally, energy bills going up, the start of the Clean Air Zone and parking issues.

“We had a good Christmas so that’s given me a bit of respite and people are still supporting us but it’s a bit of a struggle.

“Our energy bill has just doubled but Umberslade, the company which manages Cargo, are brilliant and they’re doing as much as they can to help the businesses here.

“The thing that worries me most is that you don’t know what to expect. We’ve had four years of upheaval since we opened.

“The first year was us building up a business, the second year was Covid, the third year was still Covid but people could still come to the shop and now we have all these things going on. We don’t know what to expect.

“We have some lovely customers so that keeps me going and they come from all over the region. A lot of regulars came in yesterday and it was a lovely day because they come in for their fish and have a chat.”

And Rozzy is also giving something back to her regular customers by offering to deliver fish to regulars affected by the bridge closure.

“We dropped our delivery charge for people living the other side of the river. It used to be free deliveries for over £40 but for regular customers, I’ve dropped that minimum spend and deliver it myself for no charge.”

A deserted Gaol Ferry Steps on Saturday lunchtimeA deserted Gaol Ferry Steps on Saturday lunchtime
A deserted Gaol Ferry Steps on Saturday lunchtime

Independent bookshop Bookhaus opened in Wapping Wharf in July 2021. Located close to Gaol Ferry Steps, it has relied on passing trade but owner Kevin Ramage says the knock-on effect of the bridge closure has been noticeable.

“Business picked up at the end of December when people needed to buy presents but November was terrible. In fact, as soon as the weather is bad people don’t make the extra journey to come to this area.

“The other worry is that when it is back open will people still come here as they may have changed their habits by then.

“In some ways, we’re lucky as we have another shop in Lyme Regis which is doing well. A lot of businesses in Cargo don’t have that and some are finding it tough. But then January is going to be hard for everyone.

“The worst thing is the uncertainty about when the bridge will reopen. I know they need to repair the bridge and they can’t rush it but I just wish they’d get on with it.

“We’ve asked the council for a firm date and they say it’s on schedule but haven’t said what that schedule is!”

Marek works at wine merchant Cork’s in Cargo 1. As a shop selling wine, beer and spirits, the run up to Christmas should be the busiest time of the year but he says December was much quieter than the previous year.

“Of course, Christmas 2021 was unusual as it was post-pandemic, but if you compare this Christmas to 2019, it was definitely much quieter. Cargo was packed that year.

“We are quite lucky as we have a shop the other side of the river in Bedminster, and also one on Cotham Hill, so I think some of the customers are using those shops.

“We are in quite a good place compared to other Cargo businesses which only have that unit.

“If you walk around Cargo there are now empty units - Olivers the ice cream business closed last week, the jewellers has closed and Woky Ko restaurant closed. It’s quite worrying.”