To many it may be just another shopping centre, but to some Westfield Chermside represents a place where treasured memories were born and the start of Brisbane’s modernisation from a country town to a major city.
Next Tuesday, the centre will celebrate its 60th anniversary and despite a regular turnover of retailers and constant expansions, its history has been kept alive by long-serving staff, local residents and a sole retailer.
On May 30, 1957 the 28-acre Allan & Stark Chermside Drive In opened as the first drive-in shopping centre in the southern hemisphere, with 26 stores, 700 car parking spaces and 15,000 people in attendance.
One of the many faces in the crowd was Sue-Ellen Duby. At the time, she was an 11-month-old baby; today, she has 15 years of experience under her belt working on the concierge desk at the shopping centre.
While she has very little memory of the day, Ms Duby has a picture of her father holding her above the thousands of onlookers and can remember feeling a sense of security.
Ms Duby had a chance meeting with a woman at the centre last year who was also at opening day and even won a competition. The stranger said a helicopter dropped ping-pong balls on the crowd and she had caught the one which won her a car.
“She told me that she felt like the Queen when she was in the Ford, because not everyone had a car in those days,” Ms Duby said.
“It was a big deal to come to the centre in those days, people would get dressed up and make it a big day out. It’s always been a meeting place for families and friends.”
A matter of weeks after the opening of the Allan & Stark Chermside Drive In, John Bean made the trip from the southside with his parents and baby brother to see what all of the fuss was about.
Mr Bean was just six years old at the time and came away from the centre with what he described as “the world’s best gift” – a red pedal car.
Thanks to his father’s love of photography, Mr Bean has footage from the family outing and said he loved spending time with his Dad and watching his films.
He believed the opening of the centre gave the northside the edge over the southside in the ongoing rivalry and also signified the start of Brisbane’s modernisation from a country town to a major city.
One of the most significant changes at Westfield Chermside in Mr Bean’s opinion, has been what he described as “a cultural shift” in Queenslanders’ shopping habits.
Mr Bean said the busiest times at the centre used to be on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, which he described as “rest days” in line with Christian beliefs.
However, he believed due to people’s long working hours today, which include weekends, they fit in shopping trips wherever they can, translating to a seven-day shopping cycle at Westfield Chermside.
Comparing his experiences of the centre 60 years ago to today, Mr Bean said the current version was much more spacious and easier to navigate for its size. He said the 1957 centre was packed with people, making it difficult to move around and find your way.
Out of the hundreds of retailers who have come and gone during the centre’s six decades, one original store remains – Fulchers Shoes.
It was started by Gordon Fulcher, then his son Trevor joined the business in 1970, before current owner Troy Fulcher, Gordon’s grandson, came on board in 1991.
“Because we have been around for so long, we have a very loyal client base, with customers coming in saying they used to get their school shoes from us when they were young,” he said.
“I personally select the products, whereas chain stores buy generic stock and distribute it across their franchises. This also allows me to adapt to suit my customers’ needs quicker.”
Despite the cosmetic changes at the store, it remains a small family business with Gordon’s values at its very heart.
“Grandad said you have to sell yourself first and your product second,” Troy said.
“And be on the shop floor all of the time to know what your customers’ needs are.
“To respond to the greater competition over the years, we continue to focus on customer service and filling a niche with our specialised products.”
Today, Westfield Chermside is nearing completion of stage six upgrades.
Centre manager Garth Haslam said the stages of development over the years were a reflection of the community’s needs and trends.
“We’re very lucky to still have all of the history, right back to the days when the centre first opened,” he said.
“You just start understanding how it has evolved in the last 60 years.
“It’s so nice that we have people connected to the building and who have been here as the building evolves, such as Sue-Ellen and Troy.”
Once the latest developments were completed, which was expected to be next month, Westfield Chermside will boast over 500 shops, more than 7000 carparking spaces and stretch across more than 38 acres. The new expansion will feature “a vibrant dining and entertainment precinct” according to the centre manager.
“As Brisbane continues to evolve, we will continue to react to the demands of our customers,” he said.
Originally Published: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/