THE Tower Centre in Ballymena is delighted to be celebrating an impressive 40 years in business.
Opened in 1981 the popular shopping centre has stood the test of time despite facing many challenges along the way including the 2008 recession and a worldwide pandemic.
Forty years ago the state-of-the-art shopping complex was revealed to the public complete with a copper ceiling and a Crazy Prices flagship store.
Fully let with an abundance of shops it drew crowds from near and far and soon became the hub of the town.
Throughout the last 40 years the shopping centre has had several makeovers and a number of owners.
Purchased in 2016 by Ballymena man Sam Morrison the Tower Centre underwent a £10milllion refurbishment which saw the arrival of a 30,000 sq ft Sports Direct superstore with Game.
Mr Morrison was keen to attract new retailers whilst maintaining the current offerings from anchor stores such as Primark, Dunnes Stores, Boots, Poundland and B&M Bargains.
He brought in Hugh Black who, along with Mr Morrison’s son Sam Jnr, helped oversee the multi-million pound development of the shopping centre.
Former manager of Victoria Square in Belfast Hugh is no stranger to the Tower Centre as he started his career there at the age of 19.
He said: “I was the manager of Dunnes Stores in the Tower Centre when it opened so I remember it well. At the time there was an abundance of retailers and online shopping didn’t exist. Shops were looking to expand and there was always plenty of retail opportunity.
“Over the years many retailers have come and gone and the Tower Centre has experienced a lot of challenges.
“However, I do believe we have turned things around and I am delighted to see the centre almost fully let.
“It was important for us to fill the empty units and securing Sports Direct was a major development. A lot of our retailers have stayed with us too and we now have a very strong and balanced mix of big names and independents including Sam Jnr’s stores Tommy Hilfiger, Remus, Hire Class and Sams of Ballymena.
“The Tower Centre is 40 years old and it is in a very good place,” Hugh said.
As well as attracting new retailers the centre also welcomed a new general manager, Leanne Doak who joined the team in 2017.
Leanne said she was “delighted” to be a part of the re-development of the Tower Centre over the last couple of years.
She said management and staff were working hard to buck the current trend of what is a challenging retail climate and looks forward to exciting times ahead.
Meanwhile, one person who has fond memories of the Tower Centre in 1981 is Ballymena man Robert McDowell.
Robert, who joined the centre as a security officer six months after it opened, said: “It has gone through so many phases over the years. I remember in the beginning it was the hub of Ballymena where everyone came. At one time it was the only shopping centre in Ballymena.
“I remember the copper roof it really was a talking point and was way ahead of its time. It had big globe lights hanging from the ceiling at different heights. I also remember the big flower beds with cacti in the middle.
“Back in the day you could have crossed a motorway a lot easier than crossing the mall, at its busiest it would have taken us about 15 minutes to get through it.
“Christmas has always been a big event for us here and that is one thing that hasn’t changed. The centre still embraces Christmas with all the decorations and the arrival of Santa. Every year a lot of effort goes into creating a great festive atmosphere and it always brings in the crowds.
“The Tower Centre has had its ups and downs over the last 40 years but it is great to see new shops arriving and things getting busier again.”
The Tower Centre is currently home to over 50 stores …. and is in a good place to take on the next 40 years and Hugh says ‘remember life begins at 40’.