|Park Street, with the Wills Building at the top|
The other attraction of this area has always been its bookshop/s. When I first moved to Bristol, some thirty five years ago, at the top of Park Street was George's. It too was housed in a delightfully all-over-the-place building; it too was full of wonders. It was founded by William George at the age of 17 in 1847 in Bath Street, moving to Park Street a few years later. In 1929 it was bought by Blackwell's, but retained the name of George's till the late 80s, when it became Blackwell's. It must have been a few years after this that a cafe was installed downstairs. Perfect.
Not long after this, a big department store a few hundred yards away closed, and rumours flew around as to who had bought it. We soon found out. It was Border's, a new book store chain from America. At first people were suspicious. Wasn't this a bit brash and over-the-top, a department store full of books?
Well, no. It turned out that it was actually rather splendid. It was spacious, it had everything you might be looking for, it had comfortable chairs and sofas, and nobody minded if you spent hours there browsing. And of course there was a cafe for sustenance. It became an ideal meeting place - it didn't matter if the other person was late, because there was so much to occupy you. The children's department was fantastic.
It reigned supreme for several years. But then Border's in Britain was hit by whatever it was hit by, and all the stores were closed down, including ours. It was a sad day for book lovers in Bristol.
But worse was to come. Blackwell's, presumably hit by the downturn in trade since the advent of Border's was apparently unable to take advantage of its rival's demise, because just as Border's closed, Blackwell's sold off the greater part of 89 Park Street to Jamie Oliver, and squashed itself into a tiny (relatively) space on the ground floor. It still had a reasonable choice of fiction, and of books for older children, but every other department was woefully curtailed. So,I imagine, people went there less and less, because they knew that the chances of finding what they wanted were pretty low, compared to if they shopped online.
And now the inevitable has happened. Last week I went to Bristol and headed for Blackwell's - and it's gone. After all those years of bookshoppery at the top of Park Street, now, in what must be the most bookish area of Bristol, there's nothing. Even the university doesn't have a permanent bookshop. I stood in front of that blank window, and I felt very sad.