It has been 10 years since the shopping centre opened to street-long queues in the city.
Exactly one decade ago, Northern Ireland was buzzing with the new state-of-the-art, glass domed leisure and retail destination, Victoria Square.
Now synonymous with the twinkling lights of Belfast city’s skyline, the shopping centre was first opened in March 10 years ago.
To mark its special anniversary, employees who have been with the centre since the tills first started ringing told us their first-hand accounts of working in the famous centre.
Gerry Blain, a tour guide whose office is the dome, explained why it is the best office in Belfast - despite his fear of heights.
“When I first started at Victoria Square, I was actually a customer service supervisor but we couldn’t get anybody up here to look after the dome, so I decided to do it myself,” he said.
“I advise people on what to do in Belfast, what to eat, what to do at night time, hotels and if people are travelling to the Giant’s Causeway, Fermanagh, or the Mournes.
“People say to me, ‘you must get bored with the views up here,’ but I never do. They change with the weather changes. In the snow, it gathers on the glass and you have this spectacular view of the snow on the hills surrounding the city.
“The thing I hear most when people come out of the lift is ‘wow.’ I actually say I’ve got the best and highest office in Belfast. I like meeting different people every day in my job, I sometimes meet groups from America that have come over here to sing, so I would get them to sing in the dome.
“I just love the craic and atmosphere. Over the last 10 years, Belfast has seen a big increase in tourists - it has been massive. I meet people coming into the city, and we meet over 20 different nationalities every day. We get our fair share of locals too.
“So much actually happens here on a daily basis; we’ve had pop groups up here, sport personalities, politicians, dine in the dome events, photo shoots, charity abseils, the list goes on.
“I am into rugby and football, so I get to see a lot of the personalities when they visit the dome. My favourite rugby player was a guy called Ruan Pienaar who played for Ulster - I had him and his family up here a few times. Most of the Ulster Rugby team have been up here. Frank Lampard and his wife Christine have also visited.
“The dome has been the setting for many memorable moments for visitors, especially as it is a popular spot for proposals. At once stage we were getting a proposal every four to six weeks. I remember one particular proposal well. I was chatting to a couple and telling them about all the proposals that were happening up in the dome. The guy said to me, ‘Gerry, where are the toilets here in Victoria Square?’ I told him and off he went.
“I was chatting away to his girlfriend for about 15 mins and I was beginning to wonder, ‘where has this guy gone to?’ He came back up, walked over with a big smile on his face and got down on one knee. He actually went down to get an engagement ring from Lunn’s. Then he blamed me because I was talking about proposals!”
And despite his fear of heights, Gerry this loves his job, “I have gotten used to it,” he says. “My wife laughs at me if I have to climb up a ladder at home because my knees knock, yet I work in one of the tallest buildings in Belfast. If the glass wasn’t here, I just couldn’t handle it. There’s also a constant vibration within the platform - it is constantly moving; it doesn’t matter if there are 50 people up here or no one, it is part of the design. But you get used to it after a while!”
Meanwhile, Teresa McGinty, store manager of Rituals in Victoria Square, which is one of the best-performing Rituals stores, is a real hit with her customers.
Teresa explained, “10 years ago, I was working in another shopping centre; everyone was talking about Victoria Square opening and excited at the prospect. There was such a buzz about the opening and all of these big brands that were coming to the city; some for the first time. I wanted to be part of the team that opened Victoria Square and I was excited to work for such a new and unique brand in Northern Ireland. I have served and talked to customers and visitors from all over the UK and Ireland. People talk about how beautiful it is, the dome in particular. It makes me very proud to be part of the centre”.
Jamie Maxwell, customer service supervisor, Victoria Square, was a student when she joined 10 years ago and has worked her way up to customer service supervisor.
“I’ve loved seeing the centre evolve and become a focal point for the community,” she said. “I hope it continues to be a hub for shopping, restaurant and cinema lovers for the next 10 years.”
Michelle Greeves, who is now centre manager of Victoria Square began her role at the flagship store, House of Fraser, 10 years ago added, “On the first day, when the doors opened for the first time we all felt emotion, pride and nervousness. After months of hard work, training to be the best, our moment had come.
“Customers were queued around the building, as they waited with anticipation to be the first to shop, and spend money they had saved, for this moment. We were totally overwhelmed by their reaction, as they adored this new shopping centre, and all it had brought to Belfast.
“Being part of Victoria Square from 2008 has been my greatest privilege and source of pride.
“We have created a unique environment where customers enjoy spending time, whether shopping our 150 unique brands, or enjoying a coffee or food with friends, to watching the latest blockbuster on the big screen.
“It is a special place where our customers make memories. Victoria square has also contributed significantly to the economy, through raising over £75million in rates to employing over 2,500 people, 116 of whom have been there from day one, like myself.
“Victoria Square remains Northern Ireland’s largest ever retail-led commercial development, regenerating part of the city, and subsequent surrounding areas.”