The Coming of the Ultimate Shopping Experience

Author’s Note: Quotes taken from a 2012 press release on this site here.

The ultimate shopping experience is around the corner. Grand Central is due to open to the public on Thursday 24 September, along with the unveiling of the new New Street Station. Yesterday I went to pay my respects to what was the Birmingham Shopping Centre, then the Pallasades, in all it’s faded 1970s/80s charm, and have a final mooch about the pound shops, hidden cafes and pop-up nail bars.

“The Pallasades Shopping Centre is being completely transformed and will be rebranded as Grand Central Birmingham when it opens in Autumn 2015.”

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There was a strange smell of rotting vegetables and fruit as I walked up the infamous ramp. Steel perimeter fences in place to the right of me, where the men were making a successful job of laying the tram tracks. The HSBC has been there for ages, and probably even used to be a Midland. I’m not sure about what was now the Premier Inn Hotel.

“The new name denotes the next exciting chapter in shopping opportunities within the West Midlands and will see the redeveloped centre become an integral part of the city’s retail landscape. The major development, part of the transformation of New Street Station, is positioned to complement Birmingham’s retail landscape and other major retail destinations in the city, including Bullring Birmingham and The Mailbox.”

McDonald’s is still there, which holds the memory of me for being the one where I had my first ever Big Mac when I was six and was promptly sick afterwards. In that regard, as Big Mac, Fries and Chocolate Shakes (with barbecue dip for my fries and sweet and sour for the burger) are my choice when I make my monthly (or thereabouts) visit, was I the nascent junkie after their first vomit-inducing hit? I didn’t stop for my shill burger today, and made out with my camera.

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The entrance to what was the Pallasades was boarded-up, the Grand Central logo firmly in it’s place. I thought it may have been too late, but I was a bit sad to have not made my final visit. The last few years hadn’t been kind to the shopping centre, with big household names like HMV and Woolworth’s closing their branches to be replaced by 99p shops and Paddy Power.

The sharp glass frontages of Grand Central melted down into the smoker’s shelter of the entrance of the new New Street.

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“Research shows that over 100 aspirational retailers do not currently have stand-alone stores within the city and now the newly-named Grand Central Birmingham will house many of these brands.”

As I looked through, I could remember how the Pallasades looked – on the right, Game, Claire’s Accessories and Holland and Barrett. Turning right would show you a panoply of second division clothes stores and pop-up independents. Gaudy plastic rides for the kids, and old-fashioned cafes selling sausage sandwiches with own-brand tomato sauce, BESTs and cups of tea.

There were now no escalators into the old New Street from what used to be opposite a Top Shop or New Look with Subway and a watchmakers next to it. I am looking forward to getting into Grand Central and superimposing my visions of the Pallasades onto it.

I thought about the Pallasades’ younger brother, the Pavillions, who in the 80s/90s seemed to be the height of sophistication with a lift to the rooftop restaurant with cafes from around the world – the lift starting it’s journey on the ground floor in a water fountain. Now, the Pavillions is a shell. Two flagship stores gone, and apart from the link to Waterstone’s and Marks and Spencers, I wasn’t actually sure who went in there, and if/when they did, what they’d find? Was there even a Past Times there?

Keith Stone, leasing director for Grand Central, commented: “Birmingham doesn’t currently have a centrally-located shopping destination for premium fashion brands such as can be found in other major UK cities. Grand Central will now fulfill this demand within the city. We have already had a great response from the retailers we have spoken with.”

As I walked back down the ramp taking secret photos of the steel fences and boarded up windows, I wondered what the Bull Ring Birmingham had thought about this? Had it been consulted? The new Ultimate Shopping Experience of Grand Central? As the Birmingham Shopping Centre/The Pavillions had gracefully bowed out, and the Pavillions stood lonely, unloved and a bit dazed and confused and dribbling, Bull Ring Birmingham was worried. How long left until the diggers move in?

“The scheme will bring a unique premium retail mix, state-of-the-art architecture and a dynamic shopping experience to the heart of Birmingham. Its integration with the world class New Street Station, currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment as part of a wider regeneration project of the station and surrounding area of the city, will create a truly unique shopping destination for premium brands in the city.”

Bull Ring Birmingham looked at its stores and considered what was going to stay in vogue and what would be seen as an embarrassment or not cost-effective. Borders had been worthy, but an error of judgement. And Spiceal Street probably wasn’t the destination that people had got so excited about. No. Bull Ring Birmingham held it’s breath. Would it see HS2 proudly with the others, or slightly ashamed of itself?

11 years until Paradise…

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