Forty years ago Richmond Mall was preparing to open its doors for the first time and in the process open up a whole new way of shopping for locals.
There was the carefully chosen music to “calm the strained nerves of modern living”, a “fascinating” water feature, a plastic bucket for 39 cents or a block of cheese for 32 cents. But while some things change, others don’t. The first manager of Richmond Mall, Russell Watson, says the main attractions in 1973 were plenty of free car parking and a condensed shopping space so people could “park your car once and go”.
Richmond Mall will celebrate its 40th birthday on October 2 and Russell says the success of the mall was discovered in those first few years and it’s only gotten stronger. “The idea is the same, free parking, plenty of good shops, but now it’s just a lot bigger and slicker.”
The mall started with 24 businesses in it, ranging from Farmers and New World to Puff ‘n Sweet tobacconist and sweet shop and John’s Place kitchenware. There was also a butcher, men’s and women’s clothing stores, a chemist, a restaurant, a hairdresser, an appliance store, a book shop, a garden centre and a gift shop.
Russell says opening day was exciting and there was a buzz around the community. It was opened by Richmond mayor Muir McGlashen. “There was a lot of local interest in it. We still had a couple of empty shops but we got there. I guess you could say we were a bit ahead of our time as far as the size of Richmond is concerned.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Russell says there was some opposition to the mall opening, mainly from local businesspeople who weren’t in the mall, fearing it would kill off retail on the main street.
“But all it did was bring more people into Richmond. Then, once we got people onside and they realised we weren’t taking their customers we stirred the pot again by pushing for Saturday shopping. That started the whole ‘anti mall’ again.”
As well as its growing reputation as a premier shopping centre, Richmond Mall also brought in plenty of entertainment, including Billy T James, market days, magicians and clowns, computer game competitions, Prince Tui Teka and Suzanne Prentice. That continues to this day with the mall hosting its successful model search competition, school holiday activities, Married in the Mall and the current Richmond Mall cook book competition.
Current manager, Belinda de Clercq, says the mall is strong today than it has ever been and she is looking forward to taking part in the celebrations.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary, Russell has organised an anniversary party with the original tenants and early business owners. The anniversary will start with a cocktail party in the mall on Saturday, October 5, before going to dinner at Three Rooms in Richmond.
Russell says he’s looking forward to the night.
“This is an opportunity to renew old friendships and business relationships plus see how the mall has progressed and developed from what we started all those years ago.”