We visit Shirehampton, where the lack of variety is worrying shoppers and traders
‘It used to be a busy street but it’s dead now’
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On a wet weekday afternoon, the handful of coins spewing out of the flashing slot machine in The Lifeboat Inn are almost the only signs of money changing hands on Shirehampton High Street.
“It used to be a busy street but it’s dead now mate,” mumbles one of the regulars, pouring his can of Natch cider into a pint glass. “The roadworks haven’t helped either, they’ve been going on for months.”
With its Victorian green tiled frontage and a bar fashioned out of a small boat, this community pub was saved and reopened last year by an entrepreneurial group of locals.
There are only a handful of drinkers there on a rainy Wednesday, mostly solo drinkers holding their own counsel over their pints or checking the racing tips in the newspaper before strolling to the nearby bookies.
Outside, the High Street is almost empty of both traffic and people. It has the deserted feel of a Sunday morning rather than weekday.
Woods, the family butchers that has been open since 1805, is closed for a half day, and there are a few shoppers in Heron Foods, the budget food store owned by B&M.
Other than that, local shop traders are stood behind their counters waiting for customers. It may only be a 25-minute bus ride from both Broadmead and Cribbs Causeway, but on days like this, Shirehampton feels as isolated as a country village.
Gail Osborne, has run Stadon Pet Supplies for the past 23 years. Now 57, she actually worked in the same shop when she was 16 - it was a one-hour dry cleaners at the time.
But like so many small independent businesses coming out of the pandemic and now faced with the cost of living crisis and energy bill rises, Gail is wondering what the future will hold for her pet shop.
“It’s as dead as a dodo,” she says. “It’s mainly because of the gas pipe roadworks, but I’ve had a terrible time since things opened up after Covid.
“It’s really hard work and there has been a real dip in sales. I have no idea what I’m going to do, I’m very worried.
“Before Covid I was taking £700-£800 a day takings but now I’m not even hitting £200, it’s that bad. My savings are all gone, it’s like starting all over again.”
Gail says that most customers went online to buy their pet supplies during the pandemic and they’ve simply continued to shop that way.
“People simply don’t want to walk down to the high street these days, especially when Amazon and eBay offer free postage. I used to be really busy, it’s very scary.
“Amazon can sell dog food cheaper than I can buy it in because they ship it in from abroad and I can’t compete with that.
“The only thing I can do is not order in quite as much. I’m now taking orders individually for people, it’s the only way I can do it.
“People are just buying the basics and not so many treats - they certainly aren’t buying new collars and leads, they just stick with what they need, the essentials.
“If I take £300 in here, I can pay for my house and my business but anything lower than that and I’m stuffed which is why all the savings of the past 23 years are gone, but everybody’s in the same boat.”
Gail grew up in the area and she can remember how the High Street used to be, with a much greater choice of shops than now.
“When I was a kid, I remember paint shops, sport shops and toy shops - you didn’t have to go outside the village, you could buy anything you wanted in Shirehampton but they’ve all gone.
“All we have in Shirehampton is second-hand shops, nail bars and nine hairdressers. The internet changed everything for villages like this.
“I get little old ladies who come in just for a chat and they’re the people I feel sorry for because the high street is dying and they won’t have anyone to talk to at this rate.”
Across the road from Stadon Pet Supplies is A.Nightingale, an electrical store that also sells DIY paints, hardware, tools and gardening equipment as well as offering a dry cleaning service, shoe repairs, key cutting and watch repairs.
Darren has worked at Nightingales for the past eight years. When I speak to him, he’s repairing a watch for an elderly woman waiting in the shop.
He says the shop is still doing decent business due to the fact it’s quite specialist and local people always need essentials like new keys, gardening equipment and DIY materials.
“We could stay open during the pandemic because we were an essential service and had what people needed - that saved us.
“I still think people are using the high street but the only thing that’s affecting it is the roadworks which has been going on for ages.
“People seem to be spending the same and I still see the same people - if people need a key, they need a key.”
But like other traders and residents, Darren agrees that Shirehampton needs more variety when it comes to shops.
“We used to have a branch of discount store The Original Factory Shop which sold shoes, clothes and even food - that brought people into the village.
“We seem to have three or four versions of the same type of shop now but what we need is more variety.”
These are sentiments echoed by Janette March, who has run the Super Saver Store in Shirehampton for the past 14 years with daughter Sarah.
An Aladdin’s Cave of greetings cards, toys and party decorations, the shop is quieter than it was but it’s surviving because it sells what people always need.
“People always need a card for something,” smiles Janette. “There’s always a celebration even if the news is nothing to celebrate these days!”
With its foil balloons, pumpkin carving sets and Elf on The Shelf products, Super Saver Store is also quite seasonal although Janette says supplies are sometimes erratic since Brexit and the pandemic.
“We are still struggling to get certain items like tissue paper and when we do get them in, the prices have gone up so our prices have had to go up.
“We opened 14 years ago and the cards were 50p and we’ve only just put them up to 60p.
“Nobody moaned. In fact, we were going to increase to 59p but the customers on our Facebook page told us to put them up to 60p!”
Janette says that although her shop hasn’t been directly affected by online shoppers, she has seen more delivery riders driving past since the pandemic, with both the local Co-Op supermarket and Boots using Deliveroo.
Like others, Janette bemoans the lack of variety in Shirehampton.
“There are six barbers here now and also lots of nail bars - you’re fine for hair and nails but what we need is a good greengrocer and something to replace The Original Factory shop.
“That closed before the pandemic but it hit us hard because you could get everything in there.
“Now, you can’t get a single item of new clothing or a pair of shoes in the village so you have to go to town or Cribbs Causeway and not everybody wants to do that.”