Like most things, shopping in Harrow has changed a great deal over the years. Look at old photographs of Harrow and you’ll see small, independent stores nestled side by side along all the main streets. These days, as is to be expected, we’ve seen the inevitable replacement of independent family-run stores by well known chains and the usual infestation of big name coffee shops. One significant change in Harrow’s retail culture – and indeed – nationwide, was the advent of the seven day week. At one time, Sunday was the one day a week when nothing was open and even pubs closed after lunch. Then, in the 1990s, new legislation was brought in and, suddenly shoppers found themselves able to get their fix any day they chose – even on Sundays. For quite some time, British stalwart, Marks & Spencers refused to open their stores on the Sabbath but eventually succumbed to the draw of a whole day’s extra custom.
A specific change for Harrow arrived in the form of its shopping centres, St Anns and St George’s. All of a sudden, instead of having to pound the pavements to get to different outlets, shoppers were able to find what they were looking for under one roof. The shopping centre, or mall as its known in the USA, introduced the height of convenience for shoppers with, not only a number of retailers under one roof but also restaurants and coffee shops to allow shoppers to recharge before their next assault.
It would be hard for anyone to miss Harrow’s St Ann’s Shopping Centre, situated as it is directly across from the tube and bus stations. Opened by the late Diana, Princess of Wales on the 18th November, 1987, St Ann’s was an instant hit with Harrow shoppers.
Once the site of the Heathfield School for Girls, St Ann’s boasts a selection of retail stores, a dedicated food court and parking for 940 vehicles. Along with the old Greenhill School and a number of other buildings, the Heathfield School for Girls was demolished and moved to Pinner in 1982 to make way for the site of the new shopping centre.
Like all shopping centres, the residents of St Ann’s are somewhat fluid with stores closing only to be replaced quickly with another. Many shoppers associate St Ann’s with clothing and cosmetics but, “lidl” did they know that the latest rumour for the centre is that the unit which once housed BHS is to become home to Swedish grocery superstore, Lidl.
Just a stone’s throw from the St Ann’s Shopping Centre is the St George’s Shopping Centre which houses not just retail outlets and restaurants but also a VUE cinema and a gym complex. St George’s was also once home to the much missed Woolworths store and, even had its own pub. Sadly the pub is no more but, thirsty shoppers can find refuge in The Royal Oak which is just outside the main entrance. Slightly less regal than St Ann’s, the St George’s Shopping Centre was opened on the 23rd April (St George’s Day) in 1996 by Jet from The Gladiators which was a massively popular television program at the time. St George’s is home to a number of stores and restaurants including Pizza Hut and Prezzo and a two story branch of home and interiors store, Wilko.
Whatever you’re up to this week, there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself passing one of our two shopping centres which, in the 1990s, heralded a new level of retail for our Borough.
By Nicci Rae