Highcross Leicester celebrates first birthday
Highcross Leicester has been visited more than 18.5 million times in its first year of trading.
Today marks the first anniversary of the city shopping centre's opening, and bosses said its success had exceeded all expectations.
The view from inside the new mall at the Highcross centre
Ingrid Skytova looking at shoes in Guess – women's wear has also sold particularly well at the flagship John Lewis store
The exterior of John Lewis, a key store in the centre
Visitors on the eve of the centre's first anniversary
Michael Holland, brand experience manager at Highcross, with Richard Brown, of Hammerson, raise a glass to mark the anniversary
It has created more than 2,000 jobs to cater for the 60 new shops, cafes, restaurants and cinema inside the complex.
The £350m development by Hammerson and Hermes was an extension to the existing Shires and its design has won critical acclaim since the doors opened on September 4, 2008.
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A recent recruitment drive for 25 jobs at the John Lewis department store attracted 1,400 applicants.
Highcross manager Tom Nathan said he believed the centre had not had any negative impact on Leicester's existing shops and had thrived despite the ailing economy.
He said: "Our first year has been successful at all levels thanks to the new stores we have brought to customers – of which 85 per cent are new to Leicester – as well as the extended opening times and improved access and car parking.
"The visitor numbers are terrific as we were expecting about 15 million people through the doors.
"We have carried out some survey work and about 20 per cent of visitors are people who had never been into the old Shires.
"There is nothing I can think of that we have got wrong or regret.
"The impact on Leicester has been amazing and a development like this is far beyond anything ever seen in Leicester.
"We have had some retailers close on us or go bust, but these have all been national stores – it is not local people.
"There are some retailers who chose to keep Leicester stores open despite closing elsewhere because they were so profitable."
More than 125,000 people visited Highcross on its first day and it welcomed more than a million in its first two weeks.
During the Christmas peak, Highcross shops took £111 a second. More than 1.5 million shoppers visited in the first three weeks of December.
Managers said the average shopping time for visitors was about 80 minutes, increasing to 91 minutes for customers who used the centre's choice of 13 restaurants.
A quarter of all visitors are there after 5pm to shop, eat, go to the cinema – or all three – a night economy which Highcross said did not exist before.
The centre passed on the Government's 2.5 per cent VAT reduction on its car parks to charity, donating £30,000 to Rainbows children's hospice and Groundworks Leicester and Leicestershire.
Amanda Dammers, managing director of the John Lewis branch, said there was enormous interest in two dozen full and part-time jobs recently advertised.
She said: "It's more than we might have anticipated.
"I would hope it shows people want to come and work with us, that they are recognising our reputation."
Ms Dammers said she was "comfortable" with how the John Lewis branch – which employs about 500 people – had performed during the downturn.
She said: "If you had a choice of when to open a store, the obvious choice wouldn't be September 2008, just as the country was hitting recession.
"That said, we've been really delighted and genuinely pleased about how we've performed."
She said sales of clothes, particularly women's wear, and beauty products had beaten expectations during the high street slump, while a personal fashion advice service had proved "incredibly popular".
She said: "I think there's great choice – we're offering brands you can't get elsewhere in Leicester.
"Given the fact that we've gone through a recession, are we comfortable with how we've done? Absolutely.
"I think there are more customers to come and I hope they are seeing Leicester has a huge amount to offer."
Referring to the number of empty shops in the city, she said: "We look no different to any other city in the country in that, but we've got a real strength in that we've got a new shopping centre that has only been open a year."
When Highcross opened, city council leader Ross Willmott said it was one of the greatest days in Leicester's history.
Today, he said it had created much-needed jobs and brought in many visitors.
He said: "We're delighted with the impact it has made on Leicester in its first year.
"Major schemes such as Highcross help drive the city's regeneration, creating jobs and encouraging other developers to invest in our city."
The only major incident was when a glass ceiling tile fell 50ft and shattered on tables and chairs in BBs Coffee and Muffins, in July.
Nobody was injured and nets have since been installed.
Mr Nathan said: "Every new build always has something go wrong.
"We will not take any chances with health and safety."