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34 years is a long time in retailing… the changing face of Queen’s Road

A hand-drawn 1980 map has Stuart Williams of Williams Gunter Hardwick musing on the way Bristol’s Queen’s Road has changed over the decades – and what this says about the way we shop, eat and drink these days…

Debenhams, Dingles, Maggs, Maples… once proud department store names that made Queen’s Road in Clifton the “jewel” in the city’s retailing crown. All now long departed – either through relocation or as victims of changing consumer tastes.

Gone too are the Gas Board showrooms, Radio Rentals and the Post Office, along with a high proportion of the banks and building societies that graced the popular stretch between Park Street and the Victoria Rooms.

A great deal has changed in the 34 years since this street trader plan was drawn of “Bristol’s West End” and this certainly reflects the way we have changed as a society since then.

The 1980s were (famously or infamously, depending on your perspective) a time of shoulder pads, leg warmers and bling, and the many clothes stores in Queens Road would probably have been a good source. This was a high end fashion pitch then, one of the poshest places to shop in Bristol, and far more a la mode than the more downmarket Broadmead area.

But where department stores then anchored the shopping offer, supported by a welter of classy boutiques and upmarket shoe shops, only a handful of shops are selling clothes these days. And one of those is a charity shop.

Instead, the primary focus is on convenience, “food to go”, cuisines from around the world and (of course) coffee. With around 20 places to pick up a flat white or cappuccino, Queens Road is vivid testimony to our caffeine culture.

Why the change? In many ways Queens Road is a microcosm of the radical shifts in retailing in recent decades.

We now buy our furniture and electrical goods in the edge and out of town retail parks. Fashion has decamped to the big new retail centres – in Bristol’s case, Cabot Circus and The Mall. Many of our Post Offices have been integrated into other shops. Online banking has bidden goodbye to a large tranche of banks and building society outlets. And the demise of one very specialist shop – Finlays Smokeries – is explained by changes in our smoking habits.

One other very big difference between 1980 and now is that just one small outlet for the Gateway supermarket (now Boots) – which later became Somerfields – has grown to two sizeable stores for Sainsburys and Waitrose along with a large Wilkinson’s – helping to meet the daily household needs of the growing number of Clifton residents, workers and students.

That expanding population is explained by the fact that a great many offices and other businesses locally have been converted into residential developments… but that’s another story about the changing face of Clifton!

Then vs now: 1980 – 2104

40/42 – National Westminster Bank / Nat West Bank
46 – Manfield footwear / Vinegar Hill
48/56 – Dingles department store/ Wilkos & Sainsburys
70-78 – Maggs Department Store / occupiers to include Costa, Cau & Friska
67-70 – Country Casuals & GK Cards / Bill’s
61-63 – Post Office / Wagamama
11-13 – Boots / Katmandu
15-19 – Cawardines Coffee & restaurant/ Berkeley Pub
64 – Lalondes Estate Agents/ White Stuff
62 – Radio Rentals/To be Byron Burger

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