There have been plenty of changes happening on the Marlowes in the past few months, but one building has stood the test of time for a quarter of a century – and it celebrated its 25th birthday yesterday.
Following a £32 million pound construction project that lasted two years, The Marlowes shopping centre was officially unveiled on Thursday, October 11, 1990.
Shoppers had the convenience of chain stores such as Littlewoods, The Body Shop and Dorothy Perkins all under one roof – many of which are still there today.
Centre manager Vince Williams has been at the helm for 17 years and in that time, there have been many changes but the mall still attracts between seven and eight million shoppers each year.
The 53-year-old said: “Hemel is a secondary retail destination, so we get people coming in two to three times a week instead of one big shop at the weekend.
“People have always been loyal and it’s always been very much a community town.
“Things have changed a lot; the whole industry has become more professional and it’s now more of a business manager role instead of a caretaker’s role.
“It was more basic years ago – now we spend £3million a year on maintaining the centre, and we have our own team of plumbers, electricians etc so we can fix problems as soon as they come up.”
During the 1990s and early 2000s, the centre proved increasingly popular with shoppers of all ages, and managed to stand steadfast at the beginning of the recession in 2007.
But come 2011, Mr Williams said the delayed impact was ‘huge’, with many big chains shutting up shop and leaving dozens of empty units.
He said: “Over an 18-month period, we had about 17 voids but that number has gone down and down over the years.
“At the start of this year, we only had one empty unit but now we have three.”
Mr Williams, who lives in Leighton Buzzard, said there are several ‘interested parties’ looking to move in, but he remained tight-lipped about the potential new tenants.
He said: “It’s a fantastic job, and it’s nice to get the recognition when we do go above and beyond to help out a customer.
“I have a letter on my desk right now, from an elderly lady who was having problems with her car parking ticket.
“She tried to find the customer service desk but we recently moved it, so she approached one of our team who took her bags, led her back to her car and made sure she was okay.
“She’s written this letter to thank us and it’s when we hear about how well our staff are engaging with the customers and we get good feedback, it makes it all worth it.”
With Dacorum Borough Council’s million-pound investment in the town centre, Mr Williams said there had been lots of positive responses.
He said: “I think it puts us ahead of the game when we have potential retailers coming to see the town. It looks great and we’re really moving forward.”