It was once the biggest shopping street in Glasgow - and even Scotland - but the buzz of shoppers in Sauchiehall Street has been replaced with empty shops and the grim sight of building works. 

In its heyday the 1.5 mile street rivalled, and arguably outshone, the likes of Princes Street in Edinburgh.

But since it has suffered blow after blow of shop closures - with reportedly 30 per cent of units standing empty - and has slumped in the shadow of Buchanan Street.

Read more: Glasgow city centre and Sauchiehall Street challenge flagged

Instead of a festive scene, Christmas 2023 shoppers were confronted with boarded-up graffiti-riddled shopfronts, and the mess of a building site littered with tree stumps, traffic cones and bleak silver railings. 

What happened to Sauchiehall Street? And can it be salvaged from the rubble?

The Herald: Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street todayGlasgow's Sauchiehall Street today (Image: Colin Mearns)

The origins of Sauchiehall Street

Sauchiehall Street's name is derived from the Scots words for willow meadow, which feels particularly inaccurate given its current tree-less state.

The road first emerged in the 1800s as the city spread westwards, swallowing up former moorland. 

It was widened and given its name in the 1840s, and stacked with tenement housing, shops, and offices. 

Read more: Why are the trees in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street being chopped?

The opening of the Empire Theatre in 1897 brought the street more renown as the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Bob Hope performed there. 

And by the early 1900s Sauchiehall Street had bloomed and was abuzz with theatre houses, cinemas, ballrooms, hotels, art galleries, restaurants and tearooms. 

Sauchiehall Street shop closures 

The Herald: Sauchiehall Street has suffered a number of shop closuresSauchiehall Street has suffered a number of shop closures (Image: Newsquest)

With the 20th Century came the rise of the department store and Sauchiehall Street had its selection.

But a change in consumer habits towards the end of the century combined with financial hardship in the noughties saw shops beginning to close at a worrying rate. 

Among the casualties was Sauchiehall Street's BHS, the building which closed in 2016 as the department store's empire crumbled.  

Read more: Great stores we have lost from Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street

Watt Brothers closed its flagship store on the street in 2019 after falling into administration. 

Elsewhere in the city, Debenhams was lost in 2021, while other losses over the years include Tower Records, Trerons, John Smith & Son, and Sports Direct. 

A fire at Victoria's nightclub in 2018 in Sauchiehall Street ripped through several shops, compounding the damage to the street while two fires at the Glasgow School of Art, in 2014 and then again in 2018, have severely impacted how the area can move forward.

But it was the closure of Marks and Spencer which some believed was the final nail in the coffin for Sauchiehall Street. 

The store had been open since November 1935 and had stood on the street for almost 90 years. It had survived the Second World War but it could not survive the Covid pandemic, closing for good in April 2022.

What is the cause of Sauchiehall Street's decline?

The Herald: Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow nowSauchiehall Street in Glasgow now (Image: The Herald)

“Anyone who wanders down Sauchiehall Street is not going to leap for joy at the sights they see. It is not a particularly encouraging experience," Stuart Patrick, the chief executive of Glasgow's Chamber of Commerce, told The Herald this week.

He said: “We know there is a bigger challenge in there in trying to fill the spaces that have fallen out of use.” 

Read more: Retailers say Sauchiehall Street 'beyond saving'

There are a number of issues the city is facing, Mr Patrick said. And he believes top of that list is the fact Glasgow came back to the office slower than any other city in the UK. 

In terms of footfall, the city is 10% behind what is was pre-Covid, figures show - with weekdays suffering the most. 

And the business leader said his biggest disappointment of 2023 was the council's rejection of plans to convert the former M&S in Sauchiehall Street into student accommodation

Future plans for Sauchiehall Street

The Herald: Future plans for Sauchiehall StreetFuture plans for Sauchiehall Street

But it's not all doom and gloom for the street.

Glasgow City Council is injecting £115 million into its Avenues project, which aims to regenerate the city centre's "Golden Z". 

As part of that, Sauchiehall Street will see £5.7 million for a revamped new precinct at the Rose Street end, with improvements stretching up to West Nile Street.

Read more: Sauchiehall Street named Glasgow's most struggling high street

The works on this project will also aim to deliver a "significant improvement" on Cambridge Street and the bottom of Sauchiehall Street.

Roads, pavements and footways on the streets will be reconstructed, with new kerbing, traffic signals, rain gardens and street lighting - with 40 new trees promised.

The works, which began in September 2023, are scheduled to be completed by summer 2024. 

Announcing the project, council leader Susan Aitken said it will help to bring an "improved environment"  to the area.

The Herald: Fresh works began in Sauchiehall Street in September 2023Fresh works began in Sauchiehall Street in September 2023 (Image: The Herald)

She said: “These streets will form part of the Avenue network across the city centre that will not only make the area more attractive for everyone in it but also make it easier for people to get around as they walk, wheel and cycle.”

Funded by the Scottish and UK Governments, the Avenues programme is aiming to encourage more footfall in the city centre, attracting more business to the likes of Sauchiehall Street. 

UK Government Minister for Scotland Malcolm Offord said the "transformational" work will "create safe, sustainable and modern places for visitors and residents to shop and visit, helping to bring new businesses and investment to the area".

Time will tell if this strategy works to resurrect a once-thriving high street.