We visit Kingswood, a town where the cost of living crisis isn’t the only worry for shopkeepers

Local business owners and shoppers talk to us on a visit to the town centre as the cost of living crisis continues to bite

Queues, queues and more queues. In a week that saw the mother of all queues to see the Queen’s coffin, there were also plenty of people lining up in Kingswood on Wednesday morning.

These far less sombre queues were mainly outside the town’s many banks - I counted five but there may be more - as well as the branch of Greggs outside the Kings Chase Shopping Centre.

And then there was a sizeable queue outside the Billings Pharmacy, which was doubling up as a Covid vaccination centre.

When it was built in 1975, Kings Chase Shopping Centre was probably regarded as being almost ‘space age’ with its brutalist concrete structure and glass-covered, pedestrianised precinct.

These days, it’s still a busy place thanks to the big name shops - Sainsbury’s, Wilko, Boots, WH Smiths, Costa and others are there - but also the town’s only greengrocer and a smattering of food stalls in shed-like shacks.

But step away from the shopping centre and packed bus stops outside, and the rest of Kingswood’s main shopping street is quieter than it was.

Next month sees the closure of J A Zähringer, a jewellery store on Regent Street that has been in the same family for 132 years. With no more family members able to take it on, the business is up for sale.

Across the road from the jewellers, Fresco Fishmarket, a fishmongers that has been open 13 years, has seen a dramatic drop in customers recently.

Fishmonger Tania has been working there for almost seven years and she says the queues are long gone and customers are more cautious when it comes to spending.

Tania the fishmonger at Fresco Fishmarket in Kingswood

“People just don’t have the money and if customers are suffering, so are the small businesses.

“Customers are buying cheaper items and buying less - regulars who may have been buying four fish a few months ago might only be buying one fish between two people now.

“Things have really got that more difficult in the past month. We try not to be worried and hope for the best, but everybody is worried at the moment.”

As well as the cost of living crisis, Fresco Fishmarket has also had to grapple with the fallout from Brexit. Most of the fish and seafood comes from Cornwall but also Europe.

Tania says: “We’re struggling because the cost of fish has gone up for us and we can’t increase the prices for our customers.

“One wild sea bream is now £8.90 so a lot of people are now going for the smaller £3.75 farmed ones instead - but, to be honest, most people wouldn’t know the difference.

“Kingswood is struggling. There isn’t much spending going on, it needs something to boost the area.

“There’s not much to bring people here apart from shopping - there are no activities, no swimming pool, just lots of cafes and hair or nail places.”

On the corner of Regent Street, Shaws the drapers shop has been a Kingswood landmark since 1986. The shop is still busy enough to employ six people including Amy Gray, who has worked there for 18 years.

Amy says there are still regular customers who have been shopping there for decades but it has gone noticeably quieter in the past couple of months.

She says: “People are worried but they are still spending, we just don’t have the footfall we had, it has really dropped off.”

And she’s also noticing people are buying differently as the winter of high energy bills approaches.

“Anything thick and thermal - that’s what they’re buying. We’re selling lots of thicker duvets, soft and fluffy ‘teddy’ bedding and oversize hoodies - people are actually saying they’ll wear them rather than putting the heating on.”

Alan Chappell outside his Cut & Runs barbers shop in Kingswood

At the other end of Regent Street, past the recently reopened Chasers nightclub and the legendary Clock Tower Fish Bar, Alan Chappell is having a slow morning at his Cut and Run barber shop.

“I’ve been here 90 minutes and only had one person in,” Alan tells me, staring out at the empty street. “A few years ago, we would have had four or five customers in by now.

“People are tightening their belts and prioritising - haircuts are not a priority so some people who had one every month are coming here every three or four months instead.

“A lot of people are also having DIY haircuts at home which they started during Covid when they bought some clippers online and carried on. You can spot the DIY haircuts walking past!

“After I reopened post-pandemic, I was hoping the weddings and birthdays would bring people back but that hasn’t really happened.”

At £17 for dry cut and £18 for a ‘classic’ men’s cut, Alan’s prices are in line with most barbers but he says he has to stay competitive.

“I was in Keynsham the other day and one hairdressers was charging £28 for a gent’s haircut, and there’s a shop in Staple Hill charging £25.

“Wages aren’t going up and when people come in and say energy and food is going up, I tell them I haven’t put my prices up for three years. I can’t afford to put them up because customers will go elsewhere because it’s a £1 cheaper.

“When I opened 17 years ago there were only two other barbers in the area, now there’s more than a dozen. A lot of barbers have opened up - it seems anyone with a pair of scissors can open a shop now.”

Ann Kimberley has run the Rainbow Cafe and Bakery in Kingswood for the past ten years

Ann Kimberley opened the Rainbow Cafe and Bakery ten years ago. By day, it’s a cafe serving all-day breakfasts and a cake shop but it’s also a working bakery with staff making bread through the night.

Flipping bacon on the sizzling griddle, she says: “Business has been much slower since Covid and it hasn’t picked up. Some of our bills have gone up and we have big ovens on every night because we’re a bakery and it’s all baked on site.

“The ovens are on all night from 6pm to 6am and then we have the griddle on all day to cook the breakfasts.

“Customers are coming in less often and spending less money so we’re not getting the money in the till to pay the extra bills. They’re having a cup of tea rather than a breakfast and tea.”

Ann’s business is also on the stretch of Regent Street earmarked by South Gloucestershire Council for pedestrianisation. The plan is for traffic to be diverted around Kingswood town centre as a way to rejuvenate the high street, but it’s not without its opponents.

Ann says: “Not only do we have the worry of the energy, we have the worry of the council pedestrianising the high street so that will affect us too.

“People won’t be able to park outside if they’re disabled and what about my deliveries? I don’t know how that’s going to work to be honest.”

Shopper Susan Dennis outside Kings Chase Shopping Centre in Kingswood

Shopper Susan Dennis has lived in Kingswood for 40 years and has seen plenty of changes in the area.

“I like shopping here and we have everything we need,” she says on her way to the shopping centre after a trip to Lidl.

The arrival of the German retailer was welcomed by the locals but its success may have also taken away business from other shops.

“Some of the small shops are struggling since Lidl opened a couple of years ago,” says Susan. “I think that has had a big effect - even Iceland is quieter because more people buy their frozen stuff and greengrocery stuff at Lidl.

“There are a lot of charity shops in Kingswood now and the big Store 21 site is still empty and a bit of an eyesore.

“A lot of local people have suggested that could be turned into a NHS walk-in centre as we have to go to Yate for one of those. That would be good for Kingswood.”