When Meadowhall Shopping Centre opened its doors almost 25 years ago, it touched the lives of many thousands of people from across the region.
Hundreds of workers helped build the structure over several years, many thousands more applied for jobs in the new shopping centre with the lucky ones trained and ready to pull up the shutters on the big day – September 4, 1990.
Burton Menswear manager Ken Bird has shared the past 25 years with Meadowhall as it has grown and evolved both inside on the malls and outside with the communities it shares.
Ken’s memories of the days leading up to opening and the big day itself are vivid: “The only way to describe it was magical.”
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was with Topman at the time and Meadowhall was a brand new concept that had never been seen before.
“We got the keys to the store the week before it opened, it was all completely fitted out and we had to bring in the merchandise, graphics and everything else to bring it to life.
“When we first walked in we weren’t allowed to use the main entrance, so we came in the back service entrance and walked through into our store.
“That’s when we got our very first glimpse of the inside through the windows – all we could see was the miles of marble and the columns and palm trees – the only way to describe it was magical.
“We were also under strict instructions not to go out into the malls as work was still going on but we couldn’t resist. It was something like out of The Great Escape as me and a colleague snuk down the
back stairs and made our way to the Oasis.
“It was just amazing, so luxurious with the columns and water fountains, we were just staring with our mouths open. There was also the huge video screen on the wall, I had never seen anything as big as that in my life; I just had a 14in TV at home back then like everyone else!
“The sun was shining through the dome, it was just amazing everywhere you looked. We had never seen so many different choices of food or restaurants in one place before, it truly was revolutionary at the time.”
“It felt like history in the making – and it was.”
Ken’s memories were even more vivid from the opening day itself with staff on his team begging to be allowed to work on the day.
“Everything had gone smoothly, the only hitch really was that all the staff wanted to be working on that first day and we had to tell some people to go home, I felt a bit cruel.
“But that didn’t stop them though, we had staff who weren’t due in until the afternoon shift coming in the morning and just staying.
“When 10am came and all the retailers could open their shutters, everyone was so excited, it felt like history in the making – and it was.
“Then we all saw this sea of customers coming towards us, they were just mesmerised by everything. We saw the same people spend hours in the centre and then come back the next day and the next day.
“We had coach trips coming, it was like a day out to the seaside, a real destination.
“The only way I can describe it at the time is to compare it to Meadowhall at Christmas with the grotto and the lights, but it was like that every day. It felt very special to be part of it and it still does.
Meadowhall has never lost it magic for me.
“I’m a granddad now and we come down with the grandkids and I think the biggest change is that when we first opened people came just to shop; they decided they needed something and then came down.
“Nowadays visitors now stay a lot longer with people coming down for more than just shopping. It’s a place people come meet up, have coffee, something to eat or maybe go to the cinema.
“We see the younger shoppers just strolling up and down the malls, wanting to be seen and enjoying it as part of their social scene.
“I’m now looking forward to the £50m revamp that’s coming to Meadowhall, that’s the beauty of Meadowhall it never stays the same and this is a huge investment that will keep Meadowhall right at the top as a retail destination for years to come.”
Ken, 59, is still manager at Burton Menswear on the High Street mall and says he has no plans to retire.
He lives in Dronfield, has two children and three grandchildren.