Units with ‘shop to let’ and ‘all enquiries’ signs are hard to miss on Queens Road at the moment.
A sign, perhaps, of the challenges faced by all retailers across the UK post-pandemic, but then this small stretch of road connecting Whiteladies Road with Park Street is also changing fast.
Walk along Queens Road and there are plenty of empty sites in this once busy street.
Wahaca Mexican restaurant closed in the summer of 2020 and the unit is still empty, as is the vast site briefly occupied by chicken restaurant Backyard, which closed last year.
Both Paperchase and Vinegar Hill closed their doors earlier this year and there are empty units where bubble tea cafe Bubbleology and Goodbody Wellness were, plus the Be Lucky amusement arcade on the corner, which closed recently after only a year.
Happily, there have been new openings, too. Nata & Co Portuguese bakery has replaced the long-closed Patisserie Valerie and fast food chain Taco Bell has opened where the White Stuff clothes store was, but these are both indicative of a shift in Queens Road.
Christine works at Sweaty Betty, the long established women’s activewear shop on Queens Road, and she has noticed the change in the street. The dynamic has changed significantly from what was mostly lifestyle and boutique-style clothes shops,” she says.
“A number of those places have gone and they are being replaced with cafes and fast food. We heard a rumour that Vinegar Hill is going to be a Starbucks. Queens Road is now a student destination and parking is impossible and we get all the Deliveroo bikes lined up outside for Five Guys and Wagamama.
“I have heard of people living in the flats above the shops ordering Deliveroo even though there are fast food places underneath them! It’s also not great for the area - the pavements are really greasy in the mornings and there’s always a lot of rubbish.”
Close to Bristol University campus and Clifton, Queens Road has always been a hub for students, especially after dark due to the number of clubs there are in the area.
Gravity, Lola Lo and Lizard Lounge are all on Queens Road, with MBargo, La Rocca and Pam Pam around the corner, making it a student destination at night, but daytimes are different.
Queens Road shops seem quieter than they were apart from lunchtimes when queues at Sainsbury’s and Wilko are huge.
Rewind a few years and Queens Road had a more independent spirit. There was a two-storey record and vintage store and several small lifestyle and clothes stores. Those with even longer memories will recall a time when Maggs and Dingles department stores were the main draw to Queens Road.
But these things are often cyclical. When 3,000 Bristol University students move to Temple Island near Temple Meads in a couple of years, the dynamic of Queens Road is sure to change again.
Only today, Bristol City Centre Business Improvement District (BID) told us there has been ‘considerable interest’ in the empty units along Queens Road, with all of them currently under offer.
“The Park Street and Queens Road area of the city centre offers a diverse and vibrant range of businesses for students, visitors, workers, and residents,” added the group’s head Vicky Lee, “we continue working alongside city centre businesses to deliver projects and initiatives to support them and encourage footfall back to the city centre.”
Queens Road may look tired and unloved at the moment, but this grande dame of Clifton retail is sure to return to its original splendour once more.