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How Bristol's Broadmead shopping district is enjoying a revival of fortunes.. thanks to 10 years' hard work

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Written by: Gavin Thompson | Posted 16 June 2015 18:38

How Bristol's Broadmead shopping district is enjoying a revival of fortunes.. thanks to 10 years' hard work

When Adam Jenkins was a boy, he recalls Broadmead was buzzing, packed with shops and shoppers.

Now the 52-year-old is a shopkeeper himself, having opened a sweet shop with wife Sue, 57, in September after tiring of the construction industry and Googling the best businesses to be in.

“I had a lifetime’s experience of eating sweets, so I knew the marketplace,” he quips.

Times Past Vintage Sweets is in St James Arcade, a beautiful but often forgotten precinct found next to M&S which was inspired by London’s famous Burlington Arcade.

Adam and Sue Jenkins

But while the original is home to some of the country’s most expensive jewellers, Bristol’s version was, until recently, bereft of pretty much any shops at all.

That has changed. Along with the sweet shop, there’s The Crazy Fox Cafe, The Flowerman, men’s clothing store Old Guys Rule, Hair and Beauty Bank and more, with another three or four due to open in the coming months, including a gift shop and a tailor.

“We aren’t there yet,” says Adam. “We still need to get more people walking by the door but the arcade is filling up now with quality independent businesses. There are 100 independent businesses around Broadmead but St James’ is the real centre for the independents.”

Broadmead as a whole is enjoying something of revival. Bristol’s shopping offer changed, most would agree for the better, when Cabot Circus opened nearly seven years ago.

It wasn’t the first time the city had redrawn the shopping map, Broadmead itself had been developed as the retail heart only after the Old City was bombed out in the Bristol Blitz.
But many feared this more recent change would leave Broadmead desolate as shops and shoppers would move a few hundred yards east to Cabot Circus. The recession which hit just after Cabot opened, added fuel to such fears.

The imminent arrival of the new shopping centre was perhaps a catalyst for the creation of the Broadmead Business Improvement District, or BID. Traders voted to pay a levy on top of their business rates – 1.5 per cent in Broadmead and 0.75 per cent in the Galleries – to go into a central pot which was spent on cleaning, new paving and other improvements. Traders knew they needed to smarten up to compete.
“The first BID concentrated on making sure the public realm would be at a much more acceptable standard before Cabot Circus opened,” says BID manager Jo Hawkins.

“There were concerns that Broadmead would struggle and become a second class area to Cabot Circus. Happily, that hasn’t happened. We have managed to thrive as neighbours even through the recession.”

That’s not to say Broadmead has escaped the blight of empty shops, but Jo feels it has done better than most.

“All city centres have seen vacancies in the last five or six years,” she says. “During the recession, apart from losing some of the national players who folded throughout the UK, I don’t think we did badly.”

When traders voted to continue the BID not once but twice, the focus shifted to marketing. A new brand was created to market the whole area, including Cabot Circus, as the Bristol Shopping Quarter. Jo feels this inclusive approach was vital.

“If you come here for the first time you just think you are shopping in Bristol city centre not one area or the other,” she says. “Shoppers don’t think ‘I won’t go to M&S because I’m shopping in Cabot Circus and it’s in Broadmead’.”

The BID team can spend money on campaigns and activities that individual traders could not afford.

“Marketing is a big word so that allows us to be flexible,” says Jo. “So when we had a meeting with the retailers and someone came up with a great idea saying ‘why don’t we have an independent shopping map to tell people there are 100 independent retailers in this shopping area’, we said yes and produced it last year.”

Other examples include a partnership with bus company First to recognise and encourage good service from drivers and customer service training for shop staff, all part of ensuring people have a good shopping experience.

“If someone comes here to shop and gets a grumpy bus driver that affects their experience,” says Jo.

Summer and Christmas promotional campaigns to bring in footfall to the city centre are important too.

And recently the BID has taken on a part-time person to work on social media, which helps particularly the smaller retails to get their events or offers noticed.

The signs are Broadmead’s fortunes are on the up, with fewer empty shops than at any time in the past five years. New additions include Sketchers and hair salon Sally, while Union Gate, which lost several fashion stores to Cabot when it opened, has been given a facelift and secured Pure Gym, Poundland and most recently a new Costa coffee shop.

While these aren’t names that will excite everyone, it’s important to remember not all Bristolians can afford to shop at Harvey Nics.
Instead, we are seeing different parts of Bristol’s Shopping Quarter developing niche markets.

One of those areas is the Galleries shopping centre. Back in the late 1990s, the Galleries was full to bursting. Times and shopping habits have changed, people expect more of a leisure experience when they shop – that’s why Cabot Circus includes a cinema and lots of restaurants and cafes. The centre suffered a decline and lost 15 stores in less than two years during the recession.

But a change of ownership led to some investment, including overhauling and moving the food court and it is beginning to pay off.

The centre still gets 10 million shoppers through its doors each year and the retailers are coming back too. It now has just 11 vacant stores, that’s 10 per cent of the units or four per cent of the retail space.

“This year has been the most positive we have had for a few years in terms of retail demand,” said centre manager Colin Lang.

Three new stores, Peacocks clothes store, Bargain Buys and jewellers F Hinds, opened before Christmas and women’s wear store Pep & Co will follow soon along with a Cafe Nero.

The Galleries in Bristol

Colin feels the centre has found it’s niche, what he calls “everyday shopping” with stores such as Boots, WHSmith, Robert Dyas, the Post Office as well as mass market value brands such as the 99p store and TK Maxx.

It’s a piece of the jigsaw puzzle which is put together by the BID team to make up Bristol’s Shopping Quarter... Call into Quakers Friars for your premium brands, Cabot Circus for the shopping and leisure mix, the Galleries or the west end of Broadmead for your bargains, then grab a gift from an independent store in St James Arcade.

And don’t forget to pick up a bag of sweets for the journey home!

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