We visit the once unloved Bristol street that’s now back in fashion

Loot manager Helen Bowden-Ford says footfall at her vintage store has increased over the past year
Loot manager Helen Bowden-Ford says footfall at her vintage store has increased over the past year

Like fashion, shopping areas tend to go through trend cycles and one landmark Bristol retail street is certainly enjoying a long overdue renaissance.

Visit Park Street before the pandemic and there were months when you would see more empty units than occupied stores but the dial seems to be shifting.

New shops continue to open against the odds on Park Street and although the huge site of The Florist bar is currently empty and ‘to let’, and L’Occitane en Provence closed in June, the majority of units are occupied and trading.

Louis and Jacob work at Blues, one of the newer openings in Park Street
Louis and Jacob work at Blues, one of the newer openings in Park Street

It’s a stark contrast to Queens Road, a five minute walk away, where several units are empty and a once busy shopping street has ghost town-like qualities.

But on the sunny morning when Bristol World visits Park Street, things seem to be getting back to normal, which will be music to the ears of older Bristolians who can remember how busy it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, when there were several record shops, bookshops and a thriving wine bar.

One of the big changes in Park Street has been the growth of a vintage/retro clothes quarter. There’s the vast Thrift two-floor vintage store and Sobey’s, not to forget Uncle Sam’s, which has been open since 1984.

And then there’s Loot, which opened two years ago and which, according to store manager Helen Bowden-Ford, is getting busier all the time.

“I was just looking at the figures and we have had more footfall than we did last year,” smiles Helen beneath the neon Loot sign. “It has gone a lot quieter over the summer so I’m hoping it was just a temporary blip.

“All the local vintage shops talk to each other and we’ve all experienced a bit of a drop but I think that’s for a combination of reasons. There’s the Clean Air Zone, which has made it really difficult for people to park near here and there’s the cost of living, plus the fact the students are away at the moment.

“When the winter fuel bills arrived at the end of last year, I know a lot of people my age who were literally saying they weren’t even going to shops to avoid the temptation of buying stuff so hopefully that won’t happen again.”

Loot is packed with rails of vintage clothing from different periods but Helen says people are currently after the same sorts of items.

“Vintage clothes are often made better and last longer. People still love anything made by Carhartt and all types of denim jeans or shorts but at the moment it’s trench coats and macs which are the best-sellers so they must be trending!”

Towards the top of Park Street, independent clothes and lifestyle store Blues opened last November, having previously had a shop in Broad Street the other side of the city centre.

Shop assistants Jacob and Louis tell me the move has been a successful one as it has meant the Blues brand has gained a new customer base.

Louis says: “Broad Street was a bit of need-to-know location but this is a better site to introduce people to what we do. It’s going well here and we’re seeing lots of new people.

“We get a real mix. We get students but not all students can afford it so we get quite a few ‘old heads’ - middle-aged people who are still into labels and trainers but also fragrance/skin care brands like Aesop or Malin + Goetz.”

Jacob says: “Birkenstocks are selling well at the moment and we sell a lot of New Balance trainers. The thing is, whenever you come to Blues, you see something new and different. We get people who’ve seen us on Instagram or shopped on our website and we get people walking by and seeing all the wood and coming in because it looks different and smells nice - we’ve got quite an individual look and that helps.”

At the bottom of the road, opposite College Green, the latest opening is Restore and Spoke & Stringer, a collaborative store with a cafe and lifestyle shop.

Spoke & Stringer founder Kristian Crews says: “We’ve had some great feedback so far, as we look to improve our offering every week and step by step become a more sustainable business. We are really happy to have opened here and join the growing community of supportive retailers in the area.”