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Harbour festival artisan business selling food

Bristol is a creative city full of dynamic small businesses. 88 per cent of firms employ fewer than nine people, with about one in five businesses and jobs in retail, food and accommodation.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact across both established chains and independent businesses. Many of Bristol’s traders  remined flexible and adapted to the lockdown economy, reshaping their business models and moving to click and collect and online sales.

However, COVID-19 has also highlighted the vulnerability of some businesses following the extended periods of national lockdown. Many small firms have had to take on additional debt and, despite national grant programmes, may struggle to re-establish profitability. Let us hope that a combination of city-wide investment in skills and Bristol’s indomitable spirit will see our unique and diverse makers and independent businesses flourish once again.

  • Eighty eight per cent of firms employ fewer than 9 people
  • Bristol is fiercely proud of the independent restaurants, cafes and bars


Bristol is fiercely proud of its independent restaurants, bars and cafes, and is home to an award-winning number of them. That independent spirit extends to our retail sector, ranging from boutiques found in Clifton Village, to the one-off wonders in Bristol’s Shopping QuarterStokes Croft, North Street, and Gloucester Road offer a wealth of alternative shops, restaurants and pubs, the latter boasting Europe’s longest street of independent retailers. The Old City and Old Market offer a balance of heritage with new independent retailers and food businesses, while the 17th century Christmas Steps Arts Quarter offers diverse crafts and talents across the retail and food scene. Wapping Wharf, Bristol’s newest district and a hub of independent businesses set in shipping containers, is just a stone’s throw from the harbour.

Such a thriving independent sector needs people to service it. Meanwhile Creative have taken advantage of this demand by providing workspaces for creative, digital or food and drink independents and makers.

Wapping Wharf cafes & bars with people sitting outside on seats eating and drinking

Importance to the city

While the city centre is the hub of Bristol’s visitor and cultural economy, the city includes 47 high streets and local centres, ranging from the Bristol Shopping Quarter with its extensive mix of household-name retailers, to the more traditional commercial areas like Bedminster, Henleaze, Stapleton Road, St Mark’s Road, Whiteladies Road and Gloucester Road that pride themselves on the  service they give to their respective communities.

Bristol is well known for the diversity of its independent businesses. Our aim is to ensure that our high streets and local centres are connected, creative, green, sustainable and enterprising. We recognise that these areas are important for employment, leisure, transport accessibility, culture, health, creativity and learning, as well as shopping.

The agile and creative nature of the independents in Bristol means that some were able to adapt quickly. We have seen this through individuals like Pytch and Breaking Bread, and from networks such as The Lockdown EconomyYuup and the Bristol Food Union.



St Marks Road, Easton with bunting

City support

Bristol values the independents and makers across the city as they are a vital aspect of what makes the city so unique. Over 2020-21 Bristol City Council gave out over £100m in grants to support businesses impacted by COVID-19 and set up regular communications across a range of media and groups to support and represent their voices. The initiatives and groups built on existing networks across the city to make sure a diverse set of voices are represented, championing the original businesses across this city and helping the recovery of our high streets and city centre.

This includes

The Bristol @ Night advisory group works to ensure the vitality and diversity of the night-time economy is both protected and supported to grow. Carly Heath has recently been appointed as Bristol’s Night-Time Economy Advisor, to lead the city’s entertainment and hospitality sector’s recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BARBIE was established in 2017 with the core aim of providing a voice for the independent businesses in the hospitality and retail sector. The group helps businesses by working with the council and partners to help save costs on services and products and getting industry specific information as quickly as possible.

Business Improvement Districts exist across Bedminster, Broadmead, Cater Business Park, the City Centre and Clifton Village. They work hard to champion the unique aspects of shopping local. In 2020 Bristol Together launched  a city-wide marketing campaign to support local businesses as they safely reopen. This is a partnership initiative from Bristol City Centre BID, Visit Bristol and Broadmead BID, working with Business West, Bristol City Council and the One City Economy Board.


St Nics Market sign

Sector voice

Continued and increased support to independents is going to be really important in re-inventing the high streets in a post-COVID-19 world, so whatever else can be done in this regard is a big tick in our book!

Charlie Taylor and Natalie Taylor Johnson
Owners and directors of minimal intervention wine bar, KASK

Millennium square at night showing reflections of the water

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