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HomeHistoryPhotos show Watford's Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s

Photos show Watford’s Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s

The Harlequin Shopping Centre in Watford, now known as Atria, has a rich history dating back to the 1960s.

Initial plans in 1962 discussed the development of the site, which included a bowling alley and flats. The construction of the shopping center involved demolishing the existing Sainsbury’s store on Queen’s Road in 1983.

Photos show Watford's Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s Harrow Online
The food court and upper and lower parts of the shopping centre are largely unchanged. Image: Tony Cowham

During the development, historic high street buildings were renovated, and Queen’s Road was maintained as a pedestrian route through the town.

The shopping centre officially opened in 1992 under the management of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. The name “Harlequin” was chosen through a local competition and likely referred to the nearby railway line, known as the “Harlequin line.”

Photos show Watford's Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s Harrow Online
Image: Tony Cowham

The shopping centre welcomed a multitude of popular retailers including The Gadget Shop, HMV, Marks and Spencer’s, Boots, Topman and Sony to name just a few – some of which are still there to this day some 31 years later. Additionally, it gained prominence for its diverse and food offerings with a huge food hall.

Over the years, the centre underwent expansions and renovations, including the purchase of the adjoining Charter Place shopping center by Intu Properties in 2013. A significant redevelopment project began in 2015, leading to the demolition of Charter Place and the addition of new retail units, restaurants, a department store, and a Cineworld cinema.

In 2018, a new Debenhams store opened as part of an 86,000 sq ft extension, making it one of the UK’s largest retail destinations, sadly of course, this was short lived.

Photos show Watford's Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s Harrow Online
The shopping centre front. Image: Tony Cowham

In 2020, Intu Properties faced financial challenges, leading to the transfer of ownership to Intu SGS, a subsidiary of the company.

The shopping centre underwent a name change to Atria Watford on March 4, 2021, under the ownership of Global Mutual. This decision sparked controversy, with some people advocating for a return to its original name, the Harlequin.

Photos show Watford's Harlequin Shopping Centre in the early 1990s Harrow Online
The food court in Watford Harlequin. Image: Tony Cowham

Despite the renaming, the center has managed to retain the nostalgic charm and cozy atmosphere reminiscent of its early 1990s inception.